Books on Russia
dynamics of revolution
The two great countries of revolution in
Europe have been France and Russia.
England had its revolution in the English
Civil War in 1640-60 and a decorious
epologue in the Glorious revolution of
1688. But the British are proud of never
having another one since. The French and
the Russians have had several each
subsequently into modern times; they are
aficianados at it.
Revolutions seem to abide by a a strange
oscillation. First comes a radical moment,
then a reaction against it, then a
reaction to the reaction, consolidating
the gains of the revolution, in so far as
it is possible. One just has to think of
Danton and Robespierre, then the
Directory, then Napoleon.
In Russia, it goes Lenin and Trotsky, then
the Triumvirate and culminating in Stalin.
In the latest Russian revolution, first
came Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, then came
Yeltsin; and finally has come Putin, put
in by Yeltsin, as the Directory put in
Napoleon and the triumvirate put in
This is all very schematic - but perhaps
suggestive of what is going on in Russia
The twin stars of the latest Russian
Gorbachev set the whole process in motion
by declaring glasnost and perestoika, soon
after coming to power in 1985. But Yeltsin
took over the momentum from 1987 onwards,
when he was ousted by Gorbachev from the
mayoralty of Muscovy no less, the best
favour he could have done him.
Yeltsin realised that the Russians were
frightfully fed up with endless shortages
and humiliations. They wanted not the
reform of the system, as Gorbachev
proposed, but its overthrow: 'They should
have tried it out in a smaller country
first,' as Yeltsin rightly said.
He proceeded to dissolve the USSR in 1991
and give the West a chance. Alas, the
Western gurus advocated shock therapy and
instant privatisation. Everything was to
be done with maximum of hurry, the exact
opposite to the gradualist approach of
post-Maoist China. It was to be a Great
Leap Forward. Actually, it turned out to
be a great leap backwards.
Yeltsin, no intellectual, knew something
was amiss. Millions were out of work;
whole industries destroyed.
He knew he had to try something new. He
had created a new country after all – and
what a country. It spans the globe.
He opted for order. The KGB operative by
excellence is exactly that – Putin.
Putin the powerhouse
Yeltsin knew what he was doing. The
Western wiseacres did not.
He handed over power before time to Putin,
a KGB man, an operative of the structure
of the state, who certainly knows, and
very exactly, how Russia is run.
Putin is the ultimate KGB man – and proud
of it. He said to sleuths of the same ilk;
'comrades we are back in power.'
Putin is immensely aware of his
uttterly massive advantage -
He is the natural ruler of Eurasia!
The presidents of Russia, Belarus,
Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
launched on July 5th the annual summit of
the Eurasian Economic Community (EurasecEC)
in Astana, the Kazakh capital. Among the
summit’s attendants were officials from
Armenia and Ukraine which acted as
states-observers. The summit took place at
the Acorda Palace.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan
Nazarbayev welcomed the guests and said
that this year’s meeting was symbolic as
the Eurasian Economic Community marked its
tenth anniversary, being founded in 2,000.
He also stressed that the treaty on the
establishment of the organisation prior to
that occasion was also signed in Astana.
Trade pact between Russia, Belarus and
Normally these occasions produce a lot of
lather, but little substance. Not so this
The summit led to one concrete achievement
in the shape of a trade pact between the
above-mentioned countries, the three, as
it so happens, which agreed to dissolve
the USSR in December, 1991, much to the
chagrin of Gorbachev. They are pivotal
players in the former Soviet sphere, as
they were in the USSR itself.
Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed up
to a customs union in the margin of a
meeting of the EurAsian Economic Community
(EurAsEC), which also counts Tajikistan
and Kyrgyzstan as members.
Russia had hoped that at least Kyrgyzstan
might also consider signing on, but the
recent and continuing political upheaval
in that country made it impossible for it
to participate in the preparatory work.
Nor were small and medium entrepreneurs in
Kyrgyzstan keen on the prospect, while the
country is already a member of the World
Trade Organization (WTO) - which Russia is
not. Armenia and Ukraine attended the
EurAsEC meeting as observers.
Had Kyrgyzstan joined, then the customs
union's membership would have been exactly
the same as that of the so-called Group of
Four formed within the organization of the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
in the early 1990s during the economic
upheaval following the dissolution of the
The Group of Four served in practice as
the multilateral basis for the failed
re-invigoration of a limited-membership
CIS Customs Union at the end of the 1990s,
from which the leaner EurAsEC emerged in
2000. It appears that EurAsEC is
progressively taking shape. The documents
signed among the three parties establish a
single market for goods, labour and
investment to enter into force at the
beginning of 2012. Kazakhstan's President
Nursultan Nazarbaev has proposed creating
a common "non-cash" currency called the
yevraz (from the Russian word for
"Eurasia"), which would, however, likely
have little effect.
The yevraz proposal seems to make it
functionally equivalent to the
"transferable rouble" that was used among
Comecon members during the Soviet era
exclusively as a bookkeeping device for
balancing national accounts with one
another. It was not convertible into
Western currencies, nor even (in contrast
to the actual Soviet rouble) into anything
that anyone could carry in their pocket
and use to pay for anything in the region.
Russian observers suggest that although
the initiative to establish a customs
union within the EurAsEC had been under
way for some time, it was the European
Union's announcement of its "Eastern
Partnership" initiative in spring 2008
that propelled Moscow into more vigorous
action. The EU's Eastern Partnership
programme was a knock-on to the European
Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which extends
beyond the former Soviet area into the
Middle East and North Africa around the
littoral of the Mediterranean Sea.
However, the ENP included Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and
Ukraine within that broader framework.
The Eastern Partnership was designed to
enhance the EU's focus on these countries,
which have more in common among themselves
than with the other partners in the ENP.
Indeed, the Eastern Partnership was
originally presented as the "Eastern
dimension of the ENP", but it went beyond
the ENP with the programmatic intent to
offer Association Agreements with the EU,
free-trade areas leading eventually to
economic integration, visa liberalization,
cooperation over energy security, and
EU-assisted regional development
programmes including assistance for
developing small and medium enterprises).
Incongruously, and unwisely, the new head
of EU diplomacy, Baroness Catherine
Ashton, has proposed abolishing the post
of EU Special Representative for the South
Caucasus, currently occupied by Peter
In June 2009, Belarus, Kazakhstan and
Russia agreed on a unified customs tariff,
which entered into force this month. The
effect of the customs union's entry into
force upon Russia's application for
membership of the World Trade Organization
as well as upon its trade flows with the
EU remains to be determined. The new
agreement is far from the first attempt to
establish some form of international
institution for economic cooperation among
some number of the "newly independent
states" (NIS, actually a term from
international law, although they aren't so
"newly" independent anymore) or Soviet
The Customs Code itself entered into
effect on July 6 following the acceptance
by Belarus' President Alyaksandr
Lukashenka of Russian terms for settling a
dispute over energy payments involving