On 27 January, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland shared an interesting take on Ukraine and its possible lessons for Russia.
A revolt of “the millionaires against the billionaires” helped fracture Ukraine’s corrupt power structure and lift Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency there. A similar upheaval may be bubbling next door against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That is the well-buttressed argument put forth by Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and former diplomat whose past readings of failure in the Kremlin and its political consequences have earned my attention and respect.
I first ran across Aslund in Moscow in the 1980s at the height of Gorbymania, as the West cheered Mikhail Gorbachev for pushing perestroika as a means of reforming and saving the Soviet Union. Aslund’s predictions that Gorbachev would be unable to manage the forces he unleashed and would be destroyed by them were seen at first as provocative, then profound — and ultimately prophetic.
Being right once is no sign of being right always, or even often. There is a human tendency to analogize from the past and to miss what has changed. The rough-and-tumble years of Russia’s robber-baron politics and capitalism under Boris Yeltsin’s government, which Aslund initially advised, must have changed something.
But in conversation the other day and in several recent articles he has written, Aslund persuasively illuminated domestic conflicts that he sees leading toward “an unraveling of the Putin regime.” Parallels exist both with Gorbachev’s failure and with the political success of the reformer Yushchenko, with whom Aslund worked at Ukraine’s Central Bank.
Corruption and mismanagement have begun to sap the strong public support that Putin commanded in his first term, Aslund reports. And the campaign to line the pockets of Putin’s former KGB associates by jailing, intimidating and/or dispossessing the “oligarchs” who assembled fortunes under Yeltsin has turned much of the business community against the Russian president — as corruption did for Ukraine’s former rulers.
Ukraine’s “millionaires” — the big, but not the biggest, businesspeople — helped create and finance a political opposition that they hope will implement the rule of law and let them keep most of what they have already made, suggests Aslund, who directs the Carnegie Endowment’s Russian and Central Asian projects from Washington.
Siberian Light also notes an article in Mosnews about the importance of big-city mayors during revolutions.