Furthermore, there is growing consensus among analysts that even if the power elite wants to tackle corruption, the economic crisis has exacerbated tendencies towards unmanageability of corruption within the power vertical. XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX, told us that the GOR may have waited too long. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that a few years ago, when only millions had been "stolen" from the Russian people (as opposed to today's billions), the GOR could have acted and not sparked public outrage. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the crisis had made the GOR's task more difficult and the scope of corruption has become unmanageable. As the crisis reduced the size of the pot and the anti-corruption rhetoric increased, some Russians felt that they had best grab as much as they could while the going was good. XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX, noted that the tendency of corruption to evade control by the GOR was not new. In 2006 -- at the height of Putin's control in a booming economy -- it was rumored within the Presidential Administration that as many as 60 percent of his orders were not being followed.
XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX, said that only a "revolution" could change Russia's current trajectory. He argued that the system had become too sclerotic and too beneficial for too many to allow for change. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that corruption had even become a positive factor for a substantial portion of society. By taking merit out of the equation for success, it was simply easier to pay for entrance to a university, for a contract, etc. XXXXXXXXXXXX, who has made a fortune in Russia's casino business, told us forthrightly that the "levels of corruption in business were worse than we could imagine" and that, after working here for over 15 years and witnessing first-hand the behavior of GOR officials at all levels, he could not imagine the system changing.
Corruption in Russia remains pervasive and deep-rooted. While Medvedev's anti-corruption rhetoric is a step in the right direction, we have yet to see significant implementation of new measures. Russians appear to accept current levels of corruption and seem inclined to pay up or emigrate, rather than protest. Neither have Russians reacted to the sight of the connected few continuing to indulge in luxurious lifestyles as the economic recession continues to leave most Russians worse off than they were two to three years ago. Nonetheless, the commentary on the GOR's increasing inability to manage the scope of corruption bodes ill for its stated effort to enhance corporate governance and investor confidence.I've been surprisingly troubled by the reaction to my post this summer about Western reporting on Russia. On the one hand, I didn't really expect anything different: people who I expected would be receptive were receptive and most other people disliked it intensely. (It's hard not to forget sometimes that words like "democracy" and "rule of law" actually mean things to people outside of my discursive community, and those people are liable to get upset if I throw them around thoughtlessly like references to an inside joke.) On the other hand, the nature of the pushback suggests to me that my presentation was too tendentious and facetious when it should have been judicious and thoughtful.
- Wikileaks cable 09MOSCOW2823, November 2009
In particular, one comment ran like this: "I'm not sure which resonates stronger here...your naivety, or that you're a pretend academic." As it came from an anonymous poster and was unaccompanied by elaboration or argument, it's hard to tell what the intention here was. The crucial word for me, though, is "naivety." I was writing in a demystifying mode, which implies accusing everyone else of naivety. Could I have been naive too? I can't see how, though of course the nature of the problem is such that I wouldn't recognize it. Could it be that the poster was trying to say that I was naive if I didn't recognize the dead hand of the totalitarian state in some of the situations I alluded to? That seems likely, but from my point of view that interpretation looks naive too.
But I've decided to give this commenter the benefit of the doubt, so I've been thinking about ways by which my interpretation of the subject could be made more incisive. Finally, thanks to conversations with friends and an obsessive reading of the relevant Wikileaks cables, I think I've figured out what I was missing.
My reading of Western reporting on Russia was fundamentally based on the notion that Westerners see only the State in Russia and therefore end up blaming it for all sorts of imagined and real misdeeds, domestic and foreign. To this I implicitly (and quite unreflectively) counterposed a model in which Russia is basically a normal country with an unusually wicked Society, making Society (which includes nationalist extremists as well as oligarchs) the root of most evil and the State a kind of hapless scapegoat.
This, I now see, is both wrong and naive. If it's true that nothing like "The Russian State" was responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, it's also true that Berezovsky can't be blamed in any simplistic way. It seems clear that a representative of state power was involved in some form, and this needs to be accounted for. What's less clear is the motive: the typical argument that Litvinenko was a critic of Putin isn't very convincing, because he was known far more widely in the West (which obviously would not be impressed by his murder using one of the most obviously traceable substances possible).
My new frame of mind on this subject is, alas, not of much use to people who care about the facts of the case, but it does help me arrive at explanations of this and many similar events in contemporary Russia. Basically, there is no State and Society that can be meaningfully distinguished in the contemporary Russian context. This is something historians have long believed about previous periods in the country's history, but the development of democratic forms led people to think a firm distinction would finally develop. What seems to have happened instead is a lot more interesting. Unlike previous periods, where the State carefully nurtured, mobilized, and constructed Society under its wing, in today's Russia Society has been allowed to create its own state.
This means that every politician, from the prime minister on down, is involved with private power blocs, whether financial, criminal, or of some other type. This also means that less unity of action can be attributed to state bodies in Russia today than in any previous period: the murder of an activist is first and foremost resolved politically as a struggle between institutional power bases (such as the Procuracy and the FSB). These are entangled in non-state webs of dependence and conflict that may give the event a totally different significance. (It seems likely, for instance, that business disputes, and not anything as straightforward as great-power politics, were ultimately responsible for the death of Litvinenko and the poisoning of Iushchenko.) Any explanation that stops at the state-interests stage of the analysis should thus be regarded as deeply incomplete, as should any explanation that leaves out the ways that the interests of "civil society" are reflected and find resonance in the power politics of state institutions.
Using this kind of analysis has been much more satisfying than the uncoordinated lashing-out I was doing before, and it has helped me see that even if American officials doubletalk in public it does not mean they're being spoonfed bullshit around the clock. It has also given me some perspective on the problems of cynicism as an interpretive lens for political questions. Because cynicism is always demystifying, it always has to make special claims to insight: you're too dumb to see that the state did it or that the media are lying to you. This has the side effect of removing any possibility of nuance or discussion, since the closet always has to contain exactly one parsimoniously-described skeleton (for instance, "it's the oil, stupid," or "it's American imperialism, stupid," or "it's totalitarianism, stupid"). It's no surprise Noam Chomsky's essential ideas haven't changed in decades—the man is immune to being out-cynicized.