The Color of Putin

Public consciousness always uses stereotypes. But it is always far worse when stereotypes take over the consciousness of a society’s elites. Such is the case regarding Russia nowadays.

Liberal Western and domestic circles commonly characterize Vladimir Putin’s government as increasingly authoritarian and ineffective. Inasmuch as illiberal – and especially personal – regimes are considered the least stable, the logical conclusion is that the “color revolution” scenario that we observed in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan is likely to repeat itself in Russia.

Of course, anything is possible in today’s Russia. But I think that there is more wishful thinking than hardheaded logic among those calling for a “color revolution.”

Consider, for example, that no one has ever developed a precise way to measure whether and to what extent a government is effective. If the criterion of effectiveness is the ability to achieve all of a society’s goals, we will probably never find such a thing. The United States, with a government that can hardly be described as weak, bungled the war in Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Compared to these failures, Vladimir Putin’s achievements in Chechnya look like the height of success.

Similarly, the European Union’s leadership is criticized for its inability to secure economic growth rates of more than 1-2%; by this standard, any government of a country with 7% growth – such as Putin’s Russia – should be called super-effective. Indeed, today’s administration is far more effective than Boris Yeltsin’s government during the 1990’s. Back then, most of the country was not governed at all, half of the economy’s productive capacity vanished, the Kremlin could not get a single reform law through the Communist Duma, and only lazy people were not talking about the country’s disintegration.

To be sure, contemporary Russia can hardly be called an exemplary democracy, and not all trends are encouraging. But to think that we are moving from Yeltsin’s “democracy” to Putin’s “autocracy” is simply silly. It is difficult today to imagine tanks firing on a legally elected parliament or privatization of state assets – as well as delegation of the actual running of the country – to the head of state’s family and business cronies.