Putin Came To Power Because Russian Reformers Of 1990s Focused On Privatizing Economy Rather Than On Creating New Political System – OpEd


Russian liberal reformers in the 1990s laid the groundwork for the rise of a ruler like Putin by using despotic means to achieve the liberal goal of privatizing the economy rather than seeking to create a new political system that would institutionalize conflicts, Elena Chernova says.

The St. Petersburg sociologist who specializes in the study of conflict says that by acting in this way, the reformers allowed those like Putin who favored a despotic approach to all things to rise to power because they set the precedent and failed to create countervailing institutions (reforum.io/blog/2024/06/11/kak-ne-predat-sleduyushhuyu-popytku-demokratizaczii/).

“The reformers have entered history as liberals because they freed the economy from the rule of the CPSU and proclaimed a free market,” she argues; “but on the political level, they acted in the typical despotic approach to the country as an economic system.” That subverted their own goals and made the return of authoritarianism inevitable.

The Russian economy “beyond doubt” needed to be restructured, “but the political system needed to be created from scratch.” Instead of focusing on that, the reformers argued that “democracy would have to be developed after the introduction of ‘elements’ of capitalism.” And as is not always appreciated, that departed from what Gorbachev was trying to do.

“Gorbachev’s reforms,” Chernova continues, “were directed above all at the development of ‘glasnost and pluralism,’ that is on the creation of a republic political milieu. But after 1991, Boris Yeltsin led a team of reformers for whom politics was equated with economics and pluralism was an afterthought.” The clash of October 1993 highlighted this change.

The Yeltsin government, “armed with the only true economic doctrine of the free market, sought to quickly get into a bright future” [stress supplied, just as the Soviet government had]. The conflict was acute and was fundamentally different than anything that had occurred in public in Soviet times.

But instead of viewing this as progress to a new Russia, “Yeltsin labelled it a destructive vicious cycle he had to break” to ensure that his position won and resistance was destroyed. As a result, “the liquidation of the ‘retrograde’ parliament was not the beginning of the end of democracy but the restoration of the traditional despotic type of government” Russia has had.

As a result, a Putin figure became almost inevitable.

Chernova does not say but very much could have that the approach of the Russian liberals in the 1990s was in fact supported by Western governments who were quite prepared to declare Russia a democracy even though it wasn’t as long as the regime dismantled the state-controlled economy and blocked the return of the communism.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *