Thursday, June 25, 2015


"After hearing the news of the outbreak of the 1848 Paris revolution, Nicolas I is said to have rushed to the palace to interrupt the dancing and give the counter-revolutionary command: “On horses! To Paris!” Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin is in a similar mood. When protesters in the small, strategically insignificant Balkan state of Macedonia, outraged at revelations of corruption and the abuse of power, last month besieged a government building and demanded the resignation of the government, the Russian minister of foreign affairs raced to denounce Skopje’s colour revolution in the making. Why? A clue lies in Sergei Lavrov’s appearance before the UN General Assembly this year, when the Russian foreign minister asked for a declaration “on the inadmissibility of interference into domestic affairs of sovereign states and the non-recognition of coups d’état as a method for changing governments”. Moscow, once the combative centre of world communist revolution, has become the world’s pre-eminent defender of sitting governments against their restless citizens. Western politicians imagine the Kremlin’s anxiety about colour revolutions is rhetorical, not real. But Mr Putin and his colleagues believe what they say: that street protests are stage-managed by Russia’s bitterest enemies. In the words of Mr Lavrov: 'It is hard to resist the impression that the goal of various ‘colour revolutions’ and other efforts to topple unsuitable regimes is to provoke chaos and instability.'"
Ivan Krastev, "Russian mistakes and western misunderstandings". The Financial Times. 17 June 2015,
"In the reign of Nicholas patriotism became something associated with the Knout, with the police, especially in Petersburg, where the savage movement ended, conformably to the cosmopolitan spirit of the town, in the invention of a national hymn after Sebastian Bach and in Prokopy Lyapunov---after Schiller! To cut himself off from Europe, from enlightenment, from the revolution of which he had been frightened since the Fourteenth of December, 1825. Nicholas on his side raised the banner of Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationalism, embellished after the fashion of the Prussian standard and supported by anything that came to hand---the barbaric novels of Zagoskin, barbaric ikon-painting, barbaric architecture, Uvarov, the persecution of the Uniats, and 'The Hand of the Most High saved the Fatherland'. The encounter of the Moscow Slavophils with the Petersburg Slavophilism of Nicholas was a great misfortune for the former. Nicholas was simply flying to nationalism and Orthodoxy from revolutionary ideas. The Slavophils had nothing in common with him but words".
Alexander I. Herzen. My Past and Thoughts: The Memoirs of Alexander Herzen. Volume II. Translated by Constance Garnett. Revised by Humphrey Higgens. (1968), pp. 514-515.
Per contra to surmises and analyses such as the one cited above by Ivan Krastev or the recent piece in the Times of London Literary Supplement (TLS) by Lesley Chamberlain, there is in fact very little correspondence between the Putin regime and any sort of 'conservative' regimes from Russia's past 1. Whereas in the case of Tsarist Russia, it viewed itelf as part and parcel of the European order of states (AKA Russia as 'the Gendarme of Europe'), that is hardly the case to-day nor has it been for quite awhile under Putinism. Au fond, 'Putinism' is nothing more and nothing less than a systemic institutionalization of corruption, bribery and rent-seeking. Putinism as a regime, has almost nothing in common with Tsarist Russia, especially the latter's more cosmopolitan aspect, id. est., the non-Russian, power elite who helped run the empire from the beginning of the 18th century to almost 1917. The names of such individuals as Benckendorf, Nesselrode, Witte, Lambsdorf, Kleinmichel, Munnich, Richelieu, Kankrin, Campenhausen, Kaufman, Barclay de Tolly, Giers, et cetera, et cetera. They gave the Russian Empire a European and indeed cosmopolitan visage and coloration 2. We see absolutely nothing of the sort in contemporary Russia under Grazhdanin Putin 2. While it is of course absolutely the case that Putin, et. al., were and are wildly frightened of the potential spread of another 'Colored Revolution', to Russia itself, this has little to do with 'ideology' and everything to do with a clique of criminals who wish to keep their ill-gotten gains 3. As the Financial Times recent interview with Putin's close colleague, Sergei Ivanov, indicates, those elements in the ruling circle (such as ex-Finance Minister, Kudrin), who would like to stage a climb-down over Ukraine and seek a rapprochement with the Western Powers are still currently sidelined 4. Of course if offered the Western powers should jump at any opportunity to wrench Matushka Russia from its current isolated and forlorn condition and stance. Something which is far and away different from anything in terms of diplomatic isolation that Tsarist Russia ever suffered from. Or indeed allowed itself to venture into. Viz, the current position of Moskva vis-`a-vis the Western Powers resembles nothing so much as Sovietskaya Vlast in the 1920's and the 1930's. Something which a perusal of the historical literature on the subject matter clearly shows for both periods 5. When for reasons of both ideology and primat der Innenpolitik, Moskva was (along with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italia) the leading revisionist power on the European continent. The sad truth of the matter is that looking back to Tsarist Russia to ascertain the future policies of Putin's Russia leads very quickly to a speculative cul-de- sac. Insofar as one wishes to look back at all for an idea of future Russian policies one has to look at the early Soviet period and unfortunately, that does not provide one with a very optimistic or hopeful view of Russia's future policy towards Europe.
1. Lesley Chamberlain, "New Eurasians: How Russians have long reacted to revolution". The TLS (Times of London Literary Supplement). 15 May 2015. in
2. On this theme see an essay by the Polish intellectual, Adam Michnik, "1863: Poland in Russian Eyes", wherein he quotes the Emperor Nicholas I in his famous conversation with the jailed Slavophile writer, Yuri Samarin in 1849, as saying: "You have attacked whole classes [the German Baltic aristocracy] which have served us faithfully: beginning with Pahlen, I could list a hundred and fifty generals....You have aimed directly at the government: you have wanted to say that from the times of Emperor Peter I we have all been surrounded by Germans and we ourselves have become Germanized". In Letters from Prison. (1985), pp. 251-252.
3. On the nature of Russian policy in Ukraine since 2013, see: Sten Rynning, who cogently argues: "The restoration of Russian state power under Putin has thus benefited the old security elite---and especially those close to Putin---rather than the Russian state as such. Continental repression follow when a predatory elite, bereft of easy oil and gas revenues, is tempted to channel popular frustration into foreign affairs". In: "Russia, the West and the necessary balance of Power". International Affairs. (May 2015), p. 548 and passim.
4. On the interview with Ivanov see: Kathrin Hille, "Putin's right-hand man plays down talk of crisis". The Financial Times. 22 June 2015, in
5. On Tsarist Russia, in particular the late 18th and early 19th century, see: Paul Schroeder. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848.(1994), pp. 515-520, 555-559, 730-735 and passim. Also see: A. J. P. Taylor. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. (1954), p. 9, where as the author notes for the post-1848 period, that: "the directors of Russian policy were themselves mostly Germans--Meyendorff, the ambassador at Berlin, a Baltic baron; Nesselrode, the Chancellor, a Lutheran, who never learnt to speak Russian". For the Soviet period, see (for one example among many): Zara Steiner. The Lights that Failed: European International History, 1919-1933. (2005), pp. 548-558, 620-622 and passim; Jiri Hochman. The Soviet Union and the Failure of Colletive Security. (1984).


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