By Ardain Isma
CSMS Magazine staff writerWhen Time Magazine named Russian president Vladimir Putin as The Man Of The Year last week, it was no shocker. No one can refute Vladimir’s iron grip on the country’s political and military-establishment, pulling Russia from a deploring state of chaos to emerge once again as a major player in the international scene. Vladimir Putin, notes the Time, is leading “one nation that had fallen off our mental map, led by one steely and determined man, emerged as a critical linchpin of the 21st century.” Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the bourgeoisies of the West had been hard at work, trying to influence, if not dictate, events in Russia. Through its venture capitalists or through its missionaries or through Russian oligarchs seeking legitimacy from the West, for over ten years the blitz on Russia has turned it into a modern-day silk road, where pirates turned conquistadors were competing among themselves for a share of the new prize.Distinguished MIT professor and author of many bestsellers, Noam Chomsky, has long rejected the argument that Russia was a doomed country destined to disintegrate even further as the Muslim republics within the Russian Federation seek greater autonomy or outright independence. “The country has all the logistics and the wherewithal to bounce back even sooner than expected,” confirmed Chomsky. Logistics, the country has plenty. It has the world’s largest oil reserve. It is extremely rich in diamond and other important natural resources. It has the world’s largest stockpile of weapon of mass destruction. It is the largest country on earth with 11 time zones, sharing more than 2,000 miles border with China. Many experts agree that despite several attempts to drain the country’s best brains by luring them into western, scientific laboratories, Russian science has never faded.Russians are a resilient people, becoming industrialized in just ten years, from 1924 to 1934, beating back the Nazis invading forces in the 1940s and ultimately emerged an undisputable super power in 1945. The prospect of a strong Russia, even a capitalist Russia with a well westernized upper class, hunt many world leaders. Russia must be weak and contained. It is an argument that one often hears or reads in “mainstream” newspapers. The expansion of NATO forces right on Russia’s doorstep is the biggest affirmation of western fear and also a blatant rejection of a powerful Russia. If Max and Lenin are no longer the driving force behind politic in Russia (If it has ever been since the 1950s) and the country clearly opts for a free market system even if it leaves millions of its citizens out on the cold, why such display of hatred against Russia?The nouveaux riches in Russia understand the new game. Only a strong Russia can guarantee the respect that they so desire among their western counterparts. The last ten years has offered them just that. The economic windfall that Russia benefited from the soaring oil prices, the restructuring of its industrial heartland, the reintegration of Central Asia into its fold, the strategic alliance with China, India and Iran can only be described in four words: The Bear is back. Whether they like it or not. Can the poor benefit from this newfound fortune? If the Russian rich have been living lavishly since the windfall begins and the streets of Moscow now look like the winter wonderland, clean and even sparkle at sunrise, those who live outside the ruling elite have yet to see the real fruit of the country’s newfound wealth. Millions of Russians are still unemployed, and the countryside is still ragged by poverty. But as long as the Russian elite can keep a unifying face, keeping their divergence away from public view, the Bear can reign indefinitely. As Putin steps down as president in March, a viable successor is needed to ensure the continuation of the infinite fiesta. So the December 10 announcement proclaiming Vice-Premier Dmitri Medvedev the Kremlin’s leading candidate for the post of president was aimed at ameliorating the protracted crisis in the upper echelons of the Russian political establishment. The aim is to find a successor to President Vladimir Putin who can consolidate the various groupings within the ruling elite. Medvedev’s candidacy was supported by four parties and quickly received the backing of Putin.Political scientist, Stanislav Belkovskii wrote that “under a Medvedev presidency, the legitimization of the Yeltsin-Putin ruling elite in the West and the liquidation of the Soviet social system will be carried through to the end.”Medvedev accepted the nomination without hesitation. The following day he publicly requested that Putin agree to serve, in the event of his election, as prime minister. That is in effect solidifies Putin’s hold on power for a long time to come.When Medvedev’s candidacy was announced on December 17th during a congress of United Russia, it provoked a series of commentaries noting that he had already been considered a potential successor for some time. He occupies one of the leading posts in the Putin administration and oversees “national projects” in the areas of housing, education, health care and agriculture. As a candidate for the “succession,” Medvedev represented Russia at the elite Davos forum this past winter.Proposing Medvedev as “successor” must be seen against the background of this growing conflict. His candidacy must be regarded as a partial strengthening of the position of the “liberals,” as well as a gesture of sorts toward a new reconciliation. Andrew Kuchins, the former head of the Carnegie Foundation in Moscow, cautions that competing interests within the Russian elite can very well be a destabilizing factor and a serious menace to Russia’s new[ly] re-conquered prestige.According to Andrew Kuchins, the danger of a growing confrontation was also underscored by the head of the Trade Industrial Chamber, Evgenii Primakov, during a meeting with President Putin on December 11. Primakov assumes that two dangers threaten the continuity of Putin’s course of development for Russia: the oligarchy and the coalescence of bureaucrats and businessmen. In essence, both of these dangers are a euphemism for the “orange revolution” which would be carried out by dissatisfied representatives of the business elite if they were to win over to their side key layers of the state apparatus.And what do the disenfranchised masses have to gain from bourgeois infightings? Not much. But Russia will never be able to fully regain its lost glory unless all of its citizens can enjoy the fruit of the new economic recovery. As the gap between rich and poor widens, the ultimate solution could be a second social revolution. Also seeRussia’s new interest in Southeast AsiaRussia and China in a strategic alliance to counter NATO’s global ambitionsNote: Dr. Ardain Isma is a novelist and chief editor for CSMS Magazine. His latest book “Alicia” was critically acclaimed by all of its reviewers.