A Credibility Crisis

The Russian government has developed a new anti-crisis plan. Although nobody has seen it yet, we can be 100 percent certain that it is a good one and that it will enable Russia to fulfill its strategy for development through 2020, offer solutions to new problems and provide for overall stability. The upper limit of the currency corridor will be observed, there will be no further devaluation of the ruble and the Russian people will be able to sleep easily at night.

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, a leader of the government’s anti-crisis campaign, tried to calm Russians: "The current anti-crisis plans are formulated so that even under the most adverse conditions, our model for the country’s economic growth through 2020 will be strategically executed — with some tactical corrections."

Of course, Shuvalov is no Cicero and therefore gets his thoughts a little bit mixed up, but the idea is clear enough: The crisis won’t damage Russia. It follows that none of the government’s current policies or strategies requires corrections because it is doing everything right. And if, by chance, something does not work out as it should, it can be fixed with "tactical corrections."

Who actually believes all of that? Probably only those who believe in abominable snowmen, UFOs, witches, demons and Santa Claus.

If he wanted, Shuvalov could publish his anti-crisis plan for the public to review. He could also ask the State Duma to endorse the plan to give it additional authority. The only thing the authorities cannot do is force it to work. This is because any serious plan for overcoming the crisis must begin by admitting that the policies of the last 15 years have hit a dead end. To overcome this crisis, it is not enough to make "tactical corrections" to the old strategy. A new strategy must be formulated that adopts new goals. In short, a new ideology is needed.

There is a false notion that Russia can flourish again as soon as high prices for gas, oil and other natural resources return. There is also the flawed notion that Russia’s "free market capitalism" can somehow coexist in a monopoly-driven economy led by huge state-owned corporations. In short, the entire ideology underlying the social and economic strategy of President Vladimir Putin’s era is on the verge of collapsing. Until our leaders recognize this, the government’s policies will be limited to haphazard measures and to making "tactical corrections" to a fundamentally flawed strategy.

The problem is that the current rulers aren’t willing to admit their mistakes or risk implementing radical measures to improve the situation. Radical measures are required to overcome a severe crisis, but conservatives and conformists are incapable of acting boldly. President Dmitry Medvedev and others have spoken a lot all about preparing future leaders — the so-called Golden 1,000 — and about the opportunities opening up for youth. But the crisis has revealed that little has been done in preparing the next generation of leaders.

The Russian people have not yet fully recognized the scale of the problems they are facing and the degree to which the authorities have failed to cope with the crisis. As a result, it has caused more bewilderment among the population than a desire to protest or call for the ouster of the government.

Who will be the first to recognize the need for radical changes — the authorities or the people? Even if leaders finally get serious about tackling these problems, there is little chance they will succeed. After all, it is not only the ideology that must be replaced but the leaders who are charged with implementing it. And no bureaucratic machine has ever dismantled voluntarily.


Boris Kagarlitsky, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is a Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Moscow. His latest book is Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008)

The Moscow Times, 19 March 2009

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