What did Russia’s leaders learn from USSR’s collapse?

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What did Russia's leaders learn from USSR's collapse?

(Photo credit should read ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/GettyImages)

Original by Pyotr Akopov published by Vzglyad; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

The statement by the Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev on the causes of USSR’s collapse is in and of itself very telling. It demonstrates that the country’s leadership not only correctly understands the reasons for that catastrophe, but has the political will to answer both internal and external challenges. In that regard, his assessment of the current situation in Ukraine is particularly indicative.

During the entire Putin era, Nikolai Patrushev has been one of the top leaders of the country. He initially became Putin’s successor as the head of the FSB, and has occupied the post of Security Council (SB) secretary for the last eight years.

Over the last four years, the SB has ultimately transformed itself into Russia’s main collective governance institution. Its membership includes the military/security heads and ministers of the presidential block, as well as the parliamentary chamber heads.
The SB deals with a wide range of problems. But apart from that, Patrushev is one of the four individuals who set the country’s course on the international arena, together with Putin, Sergey Ivanov, and Sergay Lavrov. In the West Patrushev is traditionally portrayed as a “hawk”, but he is simply a sober realist which has no illusions concerning the atlanticists who have brought the war to a brink of war right before our eyes.

And there is no divide into “hawks” and “doves” among the four, just as there are no fundamental disagreements concerning the international situation and Russia’s objectives. But of the four, Patrushev has the least public exposure. It’s due to his character and biography, as well as his current position which allows him not to be distracted by ceremonies and ritual speeches. Therefore Patrushev’s main means of conveying his views on the country and the world are his interviews.

Although Patrushev remains very careful in his statements and edits the interviews after the fact by removing anything that’s excessively revealing. Therefore that which is actually published is all the more important, like for example the interview with Moskovskiy Komsomolets on Tuesday.

The post-interview discussion centered around Patrushev’s words on how the US, in order to achieve global dominance, must weaken Russia as much as possible, “including through pursuing the disintegration of the Russian Federation.” Patrushev said that “Washington believes that if need be, it can act as a catalyst for that process,” which would “give the US access to enormous nature resource wealth which, in their view, Russia does not deserve to have.”

That statement is important in that it openly defines the strategic adversary’s goals, but it does not contain anything genuinely new because Patrushev made similar statements before. In the post-Crimea era, all members of the senior leadership, from Putin to Lavrov, have become more open in their criticism of US actions. Not because they learned something new about Washington’s plans, but because the relationship with the Atlanticists entered the stage of direct geopolitical conflict. Even the extremely reserved Patrushev has been making sharper statements–well, war is war. All the while, the Kremlin continues to emphasize that it is not us who started the confrontation with the US, and here Patrushev reminds once again that “the US initiated the current conflict. Europe, for its part, submits to their will,” and to “neutralize ‘overly independent’ NATO members (France, Germany, and Italy), Washington is skillfully using the anti-Russian orientation of the countries on NATO’s eastern flank.”

Indeed, pressure began to be exerted on Russia starting with 2011, through the Arab “color revolutions” and preparations for presidential elections in Russia. Washington did not wish to see Putin’s return and began to all but openly interfere in our country’s internal affairs. After it failed to prevent Putin’s residency, the US shifted to bolstering the policy of Russia’s containment and “fencing in”, which ultimately led to the coup in Ukraine. Referring to the conflict in Ukraine, Patrushev not only said that “the international society ought to thank us for Crimea. Thank us that in that region, unlike on the Donbass, there was no heavy loss of life,” but he also gave his forecast on Ukraine’s future. Which is one of the two most important statements in that interview.

SB Secretary de-facto said that if Kiev continues its present course, Ukraine will cease to exist. It’s not an ultimatum or a threat, but simply a statement of fact. It’s also an explanation of how Kremlin assesses the situation in Ukraine, and of our strategy toward that state.

“At present time Ukraine’s leadership consists of US appointees who implement the will of external forces aiming at driving Ukraine further away from Russia. This course has no future. If it is not changed in time, it will lead to a total collapse of Ukraine’s economy and to Ukraine’s disintegration.”

“Moreover, Russian Federation and Ukraine is inhabited by what really is a single nation which is still set apart. Ukraine will inevitably experience a rethinking of what is happening right now. Normal relations between our countries will eventually be restored.”

No, Patrushev did not say anything suggesting that the Kremlin assumes that the two countries will inevitably be reunited in the future–and why say anything like that right now, when the flames of both the internal Ukrainian conflict and the Kiev-Moscow conflict are being actively fanned from within and without? Why give anyone reason to accuse Russia of expansionism (the reunification of the Russian people and Russian territory is nobody’s business), when the first order of business is to repel the attack which allowed the Atlanticists to seize control of Kiev while at the same time not allowing them to build a wall between us and the EU.

Yes, Patrushev does mention that “we are interested in preserving Ukraine as a unified country and are not interested in its break-up. We believe that Minsk Agreements ought to be fully implemented. The question is whether Kiev is prepared to do that.” Which is all true–Russia does not want Ukraine to break-up because it would lead to more bloodshed and complicate though not prevent its future reunification with Russia. But in order to halt the already ongoing Ukrainian disintegration, one must reject the “Ukraine is not Russia but part of Europe” model (which is Atlanticist and moreover anti-Russian in its orientation). Can the current Ukrainian elite take that step? No, so everything points toward increasing the Ukrainian schism. For now the Donbass, which is under Russian sponsorship and protection, will have to wait until the time to reassemble Ukraine as Malorossia and Novorossia comes.

The reference to the “still divided nation” indicate that Patrushev is of the same view as Putin–there is one great Russian people, of which “Ukrainians” are one part, and which will be reunited. Naturally, he will not say how and when because nobody knows the future, but it’s crucial that Russia’s leadership is working on the assumption of the existence of a single Russian people and strives toward its reunion. Kremlin’s strategy and tactics were and are being adopted in order to reach that goal.

This policy would suffer from excessive publicity and will be successful only if the people who conduct it do not doubt  its correctness and are not afraid to make decisions. And the topic of leadership’s responsiblity happens to be the topic of Patrushev’s second important statement in that interview.
Answering a question concerning the US expectation that Russia will exhaust its economic resources and surrender, Patrushev said that we are a self-sufficient country which can provide for itself everything it needs. Then he shifted to analyzing parallels with the events of a quarter of century ago:
“–You asked me about USSR’s collapse. USSR, naturally, collapsed not because of problems with its economy. USSR’s leaders simply lost their head. They did not understand what they needed to do and how, they did not see a path toward solving their country’s problems. And most importantly: USSR”s leadership did not accept responsibility. It forgot the main principle of ruling a state: if you make a decision, you have to answer for it. Let’s recall, for example, the decision to send troops to Georgia or Lithuania. Does anyone really believe that it was made at local commander’s level? That’s simply not a serious explanation.”
–I agree that it’s not serious. But what is the connection to the economic problems of USSR or contemporary Russia?
–It has a the most direct connection to the decay of the state system of governance. USSR’s leadership failed to show political will when it was needed, it did not have a sense of conviction in its ability to preserve the country, and it did not take the necessary economic measures.
Russia’s current leadership demonstrated more than once that it has political will and that it can preserve and strengthen the constitutional design, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Russian state.”

Therefore Patrushev wholly correctly noted that USSR’s collapse was not due to the economic crisis but rather due to the irresponsible behavior by the country’s leadership which led to the decay of the state governance system. Indeed, in spite of the planned economy’s inflexiblity, the country was not destroyed by the drop of oil prices or even by the senseless economic reforms. But rather by the meandering and absence of a strategic vision, weakness and cowardice by the country’s leader at the time, Gorbachev.
Having begun the reform of the political and economic system without a coherent strategic plan, as soon as the reforms ran into problems he got scared and confused, and he spent all his efforts on preserving his own authority, intrigues, and changes among the top cadres. Having lost his support within the party, he shifted the center of gravity toward the Soviets and toward expanding the rights of the republics, while at the same time sacrificing the country’s international standing.
Gorbachev was not particularly bright, but his position meant that all of executive power was his to wield. His associates rebelled against him only in August 1991, when it discovered that Gorbachev has gone so far as to prepare a treaty that would transform USSR into a confederation, which meant destroying the state’s unity. Their rebellion was de-facto supported by Gorbachev who himself realized he had no other alternatives, but supported them in such a way that removed any responsibility from himself.  “Go ahead” is what USSR’s president told those who decided to create the GKChP, but only a day later when he saw that it was failing and not because due to Yeltsin’s intrigues but rather due to the putschists looking to Gorbachev, he just in case recorded a TV address concerning his “imprisonment.”
Irresponsibility, lack of understanding on what needed to be done, and lack of faith in own abilities–this is what doomed a great country. Kremlin’s current leadership understands this perfectly well.
Which is why Patrushev says that they are responsible for their decisions, that they have the will to preserve the state and make it stronger, that they know Russia is a self-sufficient country, that they believe in it and, what’s no less important, they have faith in their own abilities. SB’s secretary is speaking first and foremost about the president (without naming him), but is also referring to the country’s top leadership which happens to be gathered in the SB. The government’s economic policies and associated debates are, in these conditions, of secondary importance. Without denying the enormous importance of what is being done and what are the macro-economic preferences of these or other ministers or the cabinet as a whole, the self-assuredness of those people in the Kremlin who are charting Russia’s course and moving it forward is far more important.
Through a storm, with a chorus of “clever” comments behind their backs, advancing through enemy fire toward a purpose that is shared by all the members of the team, toward a victory. That self-assuredness combined with willpower are enough to close the breaches caused by enemy cannonballs and counter the internal attempts to rock the boat and undo the patches over old cannonball holes. Responsibility accepted by the country’s first leader who relies on well coordinated work by a team of people with shared views who occupy key positions–all of that means a lot. This is the crucial difference between our country today and what existed during the era of perestroika.

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  • Sunnbike

    Correct! About time someone stated the obvious. Thank you.

  • Jo

    This man seems to think the usa pushes Israel around….he’s off base there !

  • albanaich@gmail.com

    The USSR fell apart because it got into an unsustainable arms race with with the USA and the EU which had a vastly larger economic base,

    Now, while Russia has recovered somewhat, it still has a neglibible manufacturing base and is dependent on the exploitation of raw materials for its economic strength.

    It is vulenerable because it does not have the economic ‘strength in depth’ across the manufacturing and financial sectors in a addition to resources that is required of a true world power.

  • Petri Krohn

    WHY PUTIN IS PRESIDENT?

    “The UNSC resolution is the reason why then Russian President Medvedev was not allowed to run for a second term. Now President ‪‎Putin‬ – then as Prime Minister only responsible for interior politics – said that as he read the UNSC resolution he found holes in its wording a whole army could march through. ‪‎Medvedev‬ had made a huge mistake by allowing it to pass. That he had to go is the only good positive result of the NATO attack on ‪‎Libya‬.”
    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/01/libya-the-imperial-violence-keeps-giving.html