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Russia's role in the emerging world system
by Louis Proyect
24 January 2002 14:58 UTC
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By Dmitri Glinski-Vassiliev (dmitriglinski@yahoo.com)

At first glance, Russia's potential impact on the global system, as regards
advanced economic indicators, is virtually negligible. After a decade of
plundering and devastation on a continental scale, previously unseen among
industrial countries (initiated by the "shock therapy" policies of former
president Boris Yeltsin and his team of economic reformers led by Yegor
Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais), Russia is not a significant player in the
world market for industrial goods, not to speak of the "new economy" - the
two fields immediately affected by the currently spreading recession. As of
now, it produces 1.6% of world GDP and its share of global export is 1.4%.
Russia's total market capitalization is reported to be $50 bln., compared
to $130 bln. of Johnson & Johnson. The capitalization of all Russian banks
taken together is less than that of Chase Manhattan alone. Its recent
splash of economic growth resulted from the drastic devaluation of the
rouble as a consequence of the financial collapse and debt default in
August 1998, plus the nearly 300 percent rise in the price of oil in the
international markets since then. And, in spite of these favorable
circumstances, the rate of GDP growth in Russia has been steadily declining
(from almost 11% in the third quarter of 1999 when the growth began, to
8.3% in 2000 and somewhat above 5% in 2001). While upbeat forecasts
envision 3.5% growth for 2002, evidence suggests that, in fact, it
apparently grounded to a halt in the last months of 2001.

However, such raw economic data are no more than one determinant of the
role that Russia may assume among the various actors given the potential
upheaval in the world system. In the event of a crisis unfolding in the
context of the post-modern "virtual reality", it would be shaped by power
politics and propaganda at least as much as by "objective" economic
developments. As will be argued further in this paper, it is in this regard
that Russia - or, for the sake of accuracy, its ruling class - is likely to
play a pivotal role in the escalation and "management" of a would-be global
crisis. The Kremlin's recent emergence as the United States' and NATO's
foremost geopolitical ally in the ill-defined anti-terrorist struggle
potentially pitting the West against an increasing number of developing
nations is the most visible sign of this potential role - but only one in a

The economic underpinning of this role is Russia's tectonic shift in the
international division of labor - from producing industrial goods and
manufacturing tools for the developing world to being largely an exporter
of natural resources. In this capacity, Russia is competing primarily with
the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) for the share of
Western oil markets, and with such countries as Turkey and Georgia for the
Western financing of transportation routes. Russia now provides 10% of
global oil sales and is its second-largest individual trader, after Saudi
Arabia. Raw commodities now make about 85% of Russia's total exports, while
Russia imports those higher value-added goods it previously produced for

This fundamental structural change - coupled with the fervent ideological
loyalty of most of Russia's ruling class to the present unipolar world
order and key elements of the "Washington Consensus" - appears to be the
defining element of Russia's overall weight, far above its "objective"
share of the global economy. It is also a crucial determinant of its ruling
elite's motivations and behavior that are geared to the goal of
legitimizing its oppressive rule inside the country by becoming one of the
major and most valuable bulwarks of the international status quo.

The "Saudization" of the Russian Economy

Over the past twelve years or so, the size of Russia's economy declined, by
various estimates, by 50 to 80%, and the institutional foundations of its
relative self-sufficiency as the core of a cluster of the so-called "Second
World" countries that had been largely isolated from the U.S.-dominated
part of the global economy was completely dismantled. Two successive
hyperinflations already in the course of the "reforms" wiped out the
savings of the urban middle class while making the Soviet-era poor far
poorer. The government's wholesale withdrawal from the big industry,
coupled with free-wheeling and often legally untenable privatization of
whole industries for next to nothing by government-affiliated tycoons (in
association with the criminal underworld, on the one side, and a number of
Western consultants, on the other), along with the collapse of the social
safety net, have thrown Russia decades back in its economic and social
development. In the words of a leading and one of the most compassionate
Russia-watchers in American academia, Stephen Cohen, this amounted not only
to a deindustrialization, but also to a virtual "demodernization" of the
country. Meanwhile, the legislature critical of shock therapy was dispersed
by artillery fire, and its successors were thorougly tamed by the
"executive" (which warrants quotation marks becase, in fact, it never
acquiesced to a genuine separation of powers). And a Western-style "free
market" that is supposedly based on the entrepreneurship of autonomous
small and medium-sized producers, never took hold in Russia, whose economic
space remained tightly controlled by crony capitalists and criminal

Nevertheless, for most of the decade a number of mainstream Western media,
academics, and government officials acted as cheerleaders for Russia's
experiment in "market democracy", despite the overwhelming evidence of
degeneration and decay in this country. The benefit that some Western
actors drew from Russia's miracle-in-reverse was as much economic and
military-strategic, as it was ideological: the self-dismantling of the only
system that, however imperfectly, offered an alternative to the world
capitalist order and some promise of legitimacy for the dissenters within
this order, in the West as well as in the East. The resulting triumphalist
mood among Western big business and Cold Warriors found its prevalent
ideological expression in the conservative brand of neo-Hegelian teleology,
trumpeting, in the words of Francis Fukuyama, "the end of history". This
new framework imposed on the political discourse hardly concealed the
understandable desire of the present-day winners to rationalize and
perpetuate the status quo.

As for Russia itself, it has, mutatis mutandis, reverted to its niche in
the international economic order that it had occupied in the early 20th
century (viewed by some in our days as "the first wave of globalization"):
the niche of a semi-peripheral and "semi-capitalist" economy. One major
difference between then and now is, of course, that as a result of a series
of coercive "modernizations", from the Bolshevik to the neo-liberal,
Russia's agriculture is in shatters and Russia is no more a leading
exporter of grain that it was in 1913. On the contrary, in the years before
the 1998 rouble crash it yielded more than 50% of its internal market to
foreign foodstuff.

The other difference is conditioned by the emergence of oil as one of the
driving factors of contemporary global economy: since the waning years of
the Soviet Union, Russia played an increasingly visible role on the
international oil markets - which, in their turn, repeatedly produced
dramatic effects upon the state of its budget revenues and hard currency
reserves. Thus, the decline of oil prices in 1986 (allegedly assisted by
some strategists of the Reagan Administration in collusion with Saudi
Arabia) played a defining role in derailing Mikhail Gorbachev's initial
program of acceleration of industrial development and forced him to
dismantle, one by one, the basic elements of Soviet order and military
might. In a similar way, the upward trend in oil price from 1999 on -
following an agreement between Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov with
the leaders of OPEC on cutting oil sales, with the tacit understanding of
the West that this was better than an irreversible breakdown of Russia -
was instrumental in stabilizing its post-reform politico-economic and
social order and in the consolidation of Russia's ruling class. (After the
left-leaning Primakov was pushed out by Yeltsin and his extended "family",
allied with the export lobby and domestic security services, they entrusted
the management of this order to their hand-picked Prime Minister and then
President of Russia Vladimir Putin.)

It is in this context of the commodities-driven economy that one can speak
of the "Saudization" of Russia - while keeping in mind that the
super-profits of the Russian "sheikhs", unlike in Saudi Arabia, have not
trickled down to the lower strata of society to buy them low-cost education
and health care. The latter is hardly surprising, given that 92% of the
sources of the natural rent have been privatized. Their owners - typically
the offspring of senior officials of the Soviet Communist Party apparatus
and intelligence agencies - exhibit neither much affection for their
country, nor reasons to fear an uprising by an exhausted and disoriented
population. There is no pressure on them to channel their profits into
higher value-added industries, research and development in high-tech, or
the nurturing of the nation's human capital. Indeed, with capital outflow
from the Russian economy totaling, by various estimates, $ 20-25 bln. per
year - which implies the expatriation of about a half of the national
savings - there is insufficient investment in maintaining and developing
the productive capacities of the raw materials sector itself. And the
Russian government displays an ideologically stubborn resistance to the
very idea of nationalizing or even properly taxing some of the mega-profits
of oil and gas baronies - which account for two thirds of the national
income, while supplying only 20 percent of the tax revenues. Against the
opinion of Russia's most authoritative economists, it taxes natural rent
much more sparingly than wages and value-added production of the
manufacturing industries.

Thus, the notion of semi-periphery that was used above refers to Russia's
virtual split between the few highly profitable or highly advanced
industries that would potentially make it a respectable partner of the
world system's "Core" - versus most of the economy that is stagnating or
decaying even as vast export earnings keep replenishing government coffers
and foreign bank accounts of wealthy Russians. Around 80% of profits and
investment in the Russian economy as a whole are accounted for by
enterprises linked to the commodities sectors. And, as implied by the
above-made distinction, Russia's technologically advanced industries -
developed in the past mostly for military purposes - are not among those
highly profitable, at least in comparison with the extraction of raw
materials. In the absense of government investment and strategic industrial
policies, as argued for by Russia's senior economists, these previously
advanced modern industries are cash-starved, suffering from the haemorrhage
of qualified personnel, and destined to slip ever futher into the bottom
part of Russia's "dual economy".

The conditions described here at the moment foreclose the possibility of
Russia's upward move on the ladder of the international division of labor,
as experienced by the previously semi-peripheral economies of East Asia
between 1950s and 1980s, or as is currently undergone by India. In the long
term, this leaves a choice between stagnation and further decline - thus
making Russia's present position in the system perhaps the most precarious
and unstable among the nations of the semi-periphery. Having seemingly
escaped from "the horrors of totalitarianism" by reverting to its
pre-revolutionary "golden past", Russia may find itself again "the weakest
link in the chain" of the global order - the image that defined its
prospects a century ago.

The "Super-Structure": The Strengthening of a Privatized State

The use of the term "super-structure" - once the trademark of conventional
Marxism denoting the political and ideological realm as allegedly fully
determined by the economic interests of the hegemonic class - sounds oddly
apposite with regard to the present-day Russian government: the elite
perceives the function of the state as designed to service the domestic and
foreign interests of the big money. Generally speaking, "post-communist"
Russia lives in a perverted quasi-Marxist reality where, as the popular
saying goes, everything that Marx promised about socialism failed, but
everything he said about capitalism - especially its primitive stage of
development - happens to be true.

The country is run by an authoritarian super-presidency whose
constitutional and factual authority increasingly approximates that of the
Russian Tsar on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. The rest of the
"super-structure" is subsumed by Ken Jowitt's description of
semi-peripheralism that he used with regard to late imperial Russia: "1) a
moral and psychological chasm between the oligarchic, bureaucratic elite
and the lower classes; 2) mechanical transfer of liberal institutional
facades from the West; 3) external power as an ideological-cultural
referent and patron for the local elite."

The economic demodernization has been fully matched by the progressing
demodernization of institutional design and political culture. Thus, early
Yeltsin years saw the abolition of legislative oversight and independent
control mechanisms that existed in the twilight of the Soviet period; their
new surrogate was a relative pluralism of the media resulting from the
political rivalry of financial tycoons and providing some leeway for the
self-expression by independent political forces. Even this, however, has
been eliminated by President Putin, under the false pretext of struggle
against the "oligarchs".

It is often heard in the West that the capturing of government institutions
by "oligarchical" interests, known as the "privatization of the state", was
a Yeltsin-era phenomenon that is now fading due to the "strengthening of
the power vertical" announced by President Putin and his "equidistance"
from corporate interests. From a Russian perspective, this is a propaganda
that is breathtakingly at odds with reality: the privileged position of the
Yeltsin-era corporate giants in setting the parameters of economic policy
has remained intact. The extent of the privatization of government
institutions across the country has been manifested by a series of
gubernatorial elections in the Siberian areas particularly rich in natural
resources (Chukotka, Taimyr, Evenkiya, Yakutia) where Moscow-based
zillionaires trading in oil and diamonds sailed through electoral contests
against phony rivals. Their outright purchase of votes by hand-outs of
money and goods left Moscow totally unperturbed. And the standard fees paid
by other tycoons to regional authorities for being appointed as their
representatives to the upper chamber of the federal parliament are no
secret for the Moscow political establishment.

The few business magnates that have actually lost their clout under Putin
were those that had acted as public political entrepreneurs, allying
themselves with non-establishment players and thus violating the
requirement of a monolithic "consolidation" of Russia's ruling class
vis-a-vis the rest of society. The only one of them who was stripped of his
assets and thoroughly silenced - Vladimir Gusinsky -was not, strictly
speaking, an "oligarch", as he already had no political leverage with the
government: his real "guilt" was to provide some media support to the
liberal-democratic and left-leaning part of the Yeltsin-era establishment
that was eventually to be defeated by Putin.

The elimination of financially independent political entrepreneurs from the
stage was conditioned as much by the security interests of the regime as by
those foreign businesses that the government expected to invest in Russia
and that were loudly complaining about the reign of "instability" and
"chaos". The satisfaction presently displayed by some business-oriented
Western media about the flattening of Russia's political landscape attests
to the ideological militancy of the top-down globalization whose
standard-bearers do not tolerate as much political pluralism in peripheral
societies as they do in their home countries.

The Resurgence and Limits of Market Fundamentalism

While political developments in Russia are under tight control by
intelligence and security agencies, the economic policies of the government
are overwhelmingly determined by the interests of the raw materials
exporters and the so-called natural monopolies, notably in the energy
sector. Their unwillingness to invest in their own country in spite of the
dilapidated condition of their own industry accounts for the schizophrenic
twist in government priorities: they are geared toward wooing foreign
investment in the economy while at the same time allowing domestic capital
to flow freely out of the country. While the former is supposed to be
achieved through an accelerated accession to WTO and the driving down of
tax rates and labor costs in a competitive "race to the bottom", the latter
implies further liberalization of the currency regime.

As noted earlier, the Putin presidency has thrived upon the favorable
external conditions and the legacy of the consolidation of elites around
the idea of restoring a strong and sovereign state. This consolidation was
achieved in the brief period of the Primakov premiership, when the shady
privatizers of the state and radical market reformers of the shock therapy
brand were on the retreat. Replenished state coffers due to the devalued
rouble, increased export earnings and initial anti-corruption measures
allowed, first, to pay outstanding wages and pensions, and then to raise
them (not, of course, in comparison to pre-reform levels, but relative to
nearly worthless and irregular salaries of recent years). This relative
increase in the population's purchasing power, coupled with the prohibitive
price of foreign goods, expanded domestic demand for Russian products and
personal consumption, which helped fuel further growth in the real economy.
It was increasingly possible that this internally-generated growth would
gradually supplant export earnings as the prime mover of the Russian economy.

However, the political climate of fear in the country (generated by the new
president's reliance upon the intelligence agencies and mysterious
apartment explosions in major cities that accompanied Putin's ascendancy to
power) and continuing stabilization of living standards under Putin enabled
the cartel of economic elites to marginalize all those political forces
that were disloyal to the radical market orthodoxy. The elements of
neo-Keynesian expansionary policies pursued by Primakov and his leftovers
in the government were cast aside. By now, the widely resented initiators
and strategists of Russia's double collapse of 1991-92 and 1998 are back in
the driving seat. In the first days of 2002, a Moscow weekly generally
loyal to the government confirmed, for those who still doubted, that
"Gaidar's economic program is being [implemented] ... although the
authorities prefer not to talk about it [for] obvious reasons." The only
economic "pluralism" currently tolerated in the mainstream is between the
ideologists of the "undistilled" free market preaching total government
withdrawal from the economy and the rejection of the IMF conditionalities
as "interfering with the market" (this current is exemplified by the
President's adviser Andrei Illarionov) and the old-"young" privatizers
accustomed to using and abusing Western aid, along with government property
and coffers (the "St.Petersburg gang", headed by electricity monopoly CEO
and right-wing politician Anatoly Chubais along with his government proxy,
deputy prime minister Alexey Kudrin).

As mentioned above, the hegemonic interests of the commodities sector have
defined the priorities of government economic policy. The landmarks of this
policy over the past two years included: further liberalization of currency
regime; the adoption of the flat tax rate of 13% that is unheard of in
other European countries and was a losing proposition even in the U.S.
presidential campaign of 2000; the enactment of a draconian labor code
virtually eliminating independent unions; and the drive toward accelerated
entry into WTO.

Lax and selective currency regime characterized most of the Yeltsin era. As
a result of this, as well as of the lack of a credible banking system
capable of - and willing to - channel savings to productive use rather than
speculation and offshore ventures, capital export throughout the decade
exceeded the overall amount of foreign aid flowing into Russia. With the
resumption of growth, capital outflow has been eating up at the country's
impressive savings rate - 37% GDP - roughly half of which is expatriated to
foreign bank accounts. But if in the 1990s legal chaos and lack of
enforcement in this area was typically justified by institutional
breakdown, under the new president, capital leakage, continuing in spite of
the "strengthening of the state", has been rationalized by the logic of
market fundamentalism. Thus, presidential adviser Illarionov believes that
letting "excess" petrodollars out of the country actually works as an
anti-inflationary policy. They should be allowed to leave through liberal
capital controls and early repayment of foreign debt, rather than invested
in the country. This curious approach was somewhat discredited by the fact
that, in spite of the massive capital outflow and debt repayments,
inflation in 2001 ended up above its 18% target (which may explain
Illarionov's recent attempts at positioning himself as an independent
critic of the government and denying any responsibility for its economic

The labor code adopted in December 2001 in spite of a prolonged resistance
by the unions and misgivings on the part of even business-friendly
liberals, is another typical manifestation of market fundamentalism
Russian-style. To cite just a few examples: it legalizes payments in kind,
which may constitute up to 20% of the wage amount; it sanctions the
collection of personal information about employees from outside sources and
transmission of such data to third parties; it eliminates the rights of
alternative unions that comprise less than a half of employees of a given
company, thus effectively handing out a monopoly on the representation of
labor interests to official Soviet-era union (Federation of Independent
Unions of Russia) that had been thoroughly tamed by decades of political
repression and is virtually under the control of the government. This
latter provision puts in a legal limbo such long-existing professional
associations as the national union of air traffic controllers that are now
denied the right to strike under the pretext that they constitute a
minority in every airport taken as a single enterprise. Meanwhile, the new
code strips workers' representatives chosen to negotiate with the
management of their immunity from being fired in the course of
negotiations. Under the new code, the system of short-term contracts is
being spread throughout the economy, including university professors who in
Russia were traditionally rewarded for their miserable pay by mostly
unlimited tenure. And the employers are given broad authority as regards
extending working hours as well as shifting the time of holidays and
vacations, in the latter case from one year to another. It is worth noting
that even before the adoption of this code the Economist's Intelligence
Unit ranked Russia among the ten cheapest countries as measured by the cost
of its labor.

So far, however, these drastic measures have not payed off. Foreign direct
investment is still meager, even in comparison to other East European
countries. As noted above, inflation did not stay within the expected
target. The campaign of "strengthening the state" and "building up the
power vertical" did not succeed in reducing the amount of corruption, an
area where Russia still ranks the second most expensive country with regard
to bribe-taking, right after Indonesia. According to none other but Andrei
Illarionov, the scale of corruption under Putin is actually higher than
under his predecessor. Growth figures have been less and less impressive,
especially against the background of Russia's immediate neighbors, some of
which fared better without adopting as radical free market policies as
Russia did. Thus, Kazakhstan recorded growth of 10% GDP, and Ukraine 7% GDP
in the year 2001. And in November 2001, after a month of stagnation,
Russia's GDP apparently declined - from 857 bn to 820.7 bn roubles. The
only indicator with an unquestionably robust performance has been Russia's
bubbling stock market of some $2 bln. that grew at a whopping rate of 60%.
This puts it in a dubious company with Zimbabwe - a decidedly peripheral
country whose stock market also remained suspiciously immune from world

The fragility of this economic stabilization has been an obvious source of
worries both for the elements of Russia's ruling class capable of thinking
in longer terms and for the Western missionaries of market fundamentalism
with tremendous ideological as well as material stakes in the success of
the Putin reforms. The latter have reverted to their early Yeltsin-era
practices of "talking up" Russia while closing their eyes to the repressive
features of its new regime and impatiently dismissing its human rights
critics as perpetual grumblers. As for Russia's rulers themselves and their
allies in the extractive sector, they have been desperate to draw in U.S.
investment while simultaneously looking for an increase of their share on
foreign, primarily U.S. markets. "The issue of market expansion is the key
for Russia's oil industry," announced Kremlin-connected "oiligarch" Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, the head of the YUKOS company. It appears that some
strategists of Russia's Big Oil and their political patrons have been
increasingly looking toward extra-economic means to boost their
attractiveness for the wealthiest buyers and undermine their immediate
competitors from the Third World. From this point of view, the outbreak of
terrorism that put major Western powers on the war footing and the
aggravation of relations between the U.S. and the countries of OPEC could
not have been more timely.

The Clash of Civilizations and the New Energy Order

As implied by the term itself, market fundamentalism in semi-peripheral
countries is not so much a product of rational economic thinking as a blind
creed that may perfectly coexist with economic illiteracy. As with every
creed, its pathological manifestations are particularly characteristic of
recent converts typically imbued with unrealistic expectations that their
fervent devotion to the letter of the new gospel and evangelical militancy
will bring them salvation in the immediate future.

The basic feature of such a creed is intolerance to the unfaithful. Over
the past decade, Russian elites eagerly paraded their intolerance with
regard to the so-called "marginals", that is, parts of Russian society and
economy that were slow to "marketize". These vast strata of "marginals"
included Soviet-era intelligentsia (academics, teachers, engineers,
physicians); workers of traditional manufacturing industries; pensioners;
and rural dwellers. In the course of Russia's latest "revolution from
above", intense hostility that is usually characteristic of the poor
vis-a-vis the rich in typical revolutions from below, has run in the
opposite direction.

Yet this intolerance spread not only to those considered "maladaptive" but
also to those that adapted to capitalism in a markedly different way. This
refers first of all to ethnic and religious communities inside Russia that
managed to avoid the extent of atomization experienced by ethnic Russian
majority due to profound cultural differences that we will now leave aside.
Of these non-Russian minorities, Muslims - or, more precisely,
representatives of ethnic communities traditionally associate with Islam -
have been by far the largest, comprising circa 20 million citizens. Trade
competition with the Muslims, particularly Caucasians, and the resentment
over their occasionally more efficient adaptation - or, perhaps, insulation
- vis-a-vis the "wild market" fueled Islamophobia and racism inside Russia.
Violent skinhead riots in Moscow of October 2001 are its latest evidence.
At the elite level, this ethnic and cultural intolerance - intertwined with
economic interests - was one of the prime movers of the two bloody and
inconclusive wars conducted by the Kremlin in Chechnya. This unfriendliness
was only aggravated by the evidence of generous support for the Russian
Muslims coming from their better-off co-religionists from abroad.

In the meantime, the processes of economic decay that were outlined above
have confronted Russia with the Islamic world yet again, this time on the
international oil market. Regardless of the purely religious and political
dimensions of this relationship (including at times very real and
threatening outbursts of ethnic and religious radicalism directed against
Russia), the cultural intolerance of market fundamentalists apparently
played an autonomous role in shaping the attitude of Russia's extractive
elites toward their southern competitors. Wealthy Russians who spend their
vacations in Abu Dhabi have often been struck by the Arabs' response to
globalization that preserved national solidarity and provided for a
relatively equitable redistribution of profits at the national level. The
mindset that was accustomed to view Russia's southern neighbors as
developing and backward experienced a cognitive dissonance when comparing
the relative equilibrium of these societies with Russia's own social and
moral breakdown in the course of the market reforms. Such a confluence of
domestic and foreign experiences produced a view of the Muslim culture as
deviant, cunning and fundamentally hostile to Russia. Belief in the
impending "clash of civilizations" - a doctrine developed in Harvard by
Samuel Huntington - has gained increasingly wider currency in Russia's
ruling circles.

Given their intensifying competition with OPEC, it is not surprising to see
Russian oil executives displaying genuine interests in the geopolitical
developments in the Middle East and the Gulf. And if thirty or forty years
ago Soviet foreign policy establishment was generally favorable to Arab
radicals and occasionally veered into anti-Semitism, the structurally
different economic relationship of the present-day de-modernized Russia to
the Arab world has produced opposite effects. Rampant anti-Arab sentiments
among Russia's business executives were openly expressed well before the
terrorist strikes in the U.S. Russia's Big Oil was clearly interested in
the aggravation of regional conflicts that would further drive up commodity
prices. Thus, in a typical article posted on the Russian internet channel
RusEnergy.com, affiliated with YUKOS, titled: "Will Russia's Oil Be Enough
If Israel Occupies Palestine?", its author Ivan Gribanov opined that "the
occupation of Palestine [by Israel] and the wiping out of the bandits would
bring a sense of relief to many opponents of Islamic terrorism." And, in
another posting, the same author wrote with characteristic frankness that
"Russia may draw considerable political and economic benefit from the clash
of civilizations, if Moscow is skillful enough to use the international
situation in its interests."

As suggested above, the events of 9/11 in the U.S. and the ensuing
anti-terrorist campaign that heightened Western apprehensions about the
"Arab" oil was seen by many in the Russian commodity sector as a golden
opportunity for mega-profits. President Putin acted perhaps as less than a
fully accomplished diplomat when he echoed these feelings by announcing in
the course of his September visit to Germany that Russia "stands ready to
increase its oil exports in case of world conflicts." Meanwhile, such
mouthpieces of commodities' barons as RusEnergy.com have risen the
intensity of their Islamophobia to new heights.

To sum up, outside observers would be mistaken to see President Putin's
rapprochement with the West and his embrace of the anti-terrorist coalition
as a result of progressive developments and a comprehensive
"Westernization" of Russia, whatever this may mean. Quite the contrary, in
economic terms it stems from Russia's slipping way backward in its
development - to a stage where, rather than competing with the West, as
before, over the markets for industrial goods and technologies in the
developing world, it is competing with the OPEC over Western oil markets.
And the intesity of racism that is percolating through the ranks of
Russia's ruling class and is incomparable to the superficially instrumental
anti-Americanism of the Soviet era testifies to the extent of this
historical rollback that has been experienced by Russia. If the
anti-Westernism of the parts of the Soviet military-industrial complex was
substantially moderated by the larger horizons of overall government
policies, the present anti-Arab and anti-Islamic sentiment of Russia's oil
salesmen is either completely accepted as a given or even occasionally
fueled by government officials and government-affiliated media.

In Russian history, international crises always reverberated not only
through clashes of military forces and economic interests but - often more
importantly and intensely - through ideological and cultural wars.
Likewise, in our days, while Russia's decrepit and demoralized military
does not represent a credible threat to anyone except, perhaps, to Russia
itself, and the hegemonic corporate interests do not face any challenge to
their dominance that would lead to a crisis, the ideological radicalization
of Russia's ruling class that has run up against inherent constraints to
its prosperity spells enough trouble to warrant a serious attention.
Gradually turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy in the Russian elites'
relations with various Muslim-populated states and Muslim ethnic groups
within Russia, the clash of civilizations is threatening to become the most
violent manifestation of the world-systemic crisis in the heart of Eurasia.

Dmitri Glinski-Vassiliev is a Senior Associate at the Institute for World
Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of
Sciences. Dr. Glinski-Vassiliev graduated with a B.A. from Moscow State
University in 1994. He received an M.A. in political science from Ohio
State University in 1995 and an M.A. in international relations from John
Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, in 2000.
Glinski-Vassiliev received his Ph.D. from IMEMO in 2000. 

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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