@TheEconomist gives writing credit to Arkady Ostrovsky, in its ‘The World Ahead 2023’ series.

Almost Marx surveys this broad historical landscape, and its cast of characters.

The World Ahead | The World Ahead 2023

Headline: Russia risks becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos

Sub-headline: There is growing opposition to President Putin at home

It is unusual for this news magazine to grant credit to one of its ‘writers’. The Reader might begin her exploration of the career of the Economist’s writer Arkady Ostrovsky:

The New York Times of July 13, 2016 offers a New York Times respectable bourgeoise opinion, about Mr. Ostrovsky, by Serge Schmemann:

Headline: Review: ‘The Invention of Russia’ Examines the Post-Soviet Path’

by Serge Schmemann

Anyone who has spent time in Russia over the past 30 years should be deeply grateful for Arkady Ostrovsky’s fast-paced and excellently written book, “The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War.”

Too often, the story of post-Soviet Russia is presented through a Western prism as a clash of good Westernizers and evil reactionaries, or as a lamentation about what the West could, and should, have done once it “won” the Cold War. Mr. Ostrovsky doesn’t waste time on that. A first-class journalist who has spent many years covering Russia for the London publications The Financial Times and The Economist, he is also a native of the Soviet Union, with an instinctive understanding of how politics, ideas and daily life really work there.

In Mr. Ostrovsky’s book, the West plays a minor role — as a utopia for liberal intellectuals, a scapegoat for Vladimir V. Putin or a place of exile for fallen oligarchs. His is an insider’s story about how the uniquely Russian contest of ideas, myths and invented histories shaped the chaotic search for a new Russia, once Communist rule crumbled — from Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s illusion that Soviet rule could be reformed and democratized, to what Mr. Ostrovsky calls the “hatred and aggression” of Mr. Putin’s kleptocratic state.

In “The Invention of Russia,” those primarily responsible for Russia’s “emergence from authoritarianism and for its descent back into it” and the great dramas that accompanied it — Boris N. Yeltsin’s firing on his Parliament, the Chechen wars, the hostage-taking in a Beslan school — are the Russians who invented (as the book’s title proclaims) a progression of narratives, either in print or, more powerfully, on television. It was there, on the media front, Mr. Ostrovsky argues, that the real struggles over Russia’s future were fought.

Serge Schmemann offers this, on Arkady Ostrovsky:

I spent many years as a reporter in Moscow, and yet Mr. Ostrovsky’s original and trenchant observations repeatedly had me exclaiming, “Of course, that’s how it was!” His riff on the failures of the intelligentsia, for example, ends with this pithy indictment: “Used to raising toasts to ‘the success of our hopeless cause,’ it did not know what to do when its cause succeeded.” Of course!

Arkady Ostrovsky repeats the ‘Party Line’ :

When russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine on February 24th 2022, he set out to grab territory, deprive it of sovereignty, wipe out the very idea of its national identity and turn what remained of it into a failed state. After months of Ukraine’s fierce resistance, its statehood and its identity are stronger than ever, and all the things that Mr Putin had intended to inflict on Ukraine are afflicting his own country.

Here are my selections from this ‘Putin Bill Of Attainder’:

Mr Putin’s war is turning Russia into a failed state, with uncontrolled borders, private military formations, a fleeing population, moral decay and the possibility of civil conflict.

Consider its borders. Russia’s absurd and illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine—Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia—before it could even establish full control over them, makes it a state with illegitimate territories and a fluid frontier.

Another feature of a failing state is a loss of monopoly on the use of physical force. Private armies and mercenaries, although officially banned in Russia, are flourishing. Evgeny Prigozhin, a former convict nicknamed “Putin’s chef” and a front man for the Wagner Group, a private mercenary operation, has been openly recruiting prisoners and offering them pardons in exchange for joining his forces. Wagner, he says, has no desire to be “legalised” or integrated into the armed forces.

The Russian state is failing in the most basic function of all. Far from protecting the lives of its people, it poses the biggest threat to them, by using them as cannon fodder.

The mobilisation caused a shock in Russia far greater than the beginning of the war itself. Some of its effects are already visible: recruitment centres were set ablaze, and at least 300,000 people fled abroad (on top of the 300,000 who left in the first weeks of the war).

While urbanites flee, tens of thousands of their poorer compatriots are being rounded up and sent into the trenches. By bringing his “special military operation” home Mr Putin has broken the fragile consensus under which people agreed not to protest against the war in exchange for being left alone.

Mr Putin cannot win, but he cannot afford to end the conflict either. He may hope that by making so many people collude in his war, and subjecting them to more of his poisonous, fascist propaganda, he will be able to drag things out.

As Alexei Navalny, Russia’s jailed opposition leader, said in one of his court hearings: “We have not been able to prevent the catastrophe and we are no longer sliding, but flying into it.

Its appropriate that Arkady Ostrovsky should end his Anti-Putin Bill of Attainder with Alexei Navalny. Here is Masha Gessen’s hand-wringing about Navalny, in his February 15, 2021 essay, in the The New Yorker:

Navalny’s reputation as an ultranationalist stems from statements and actions that are more than a decade old.In 2007, he left the socialist-democratic party Yabloko, where he had served as the deputy head of the Moscow chapter, to start a new political movement. He and his co-founders called their movement narod, the Russian word for “people” and, in their case, also an acronym for National Russian Liberation Movement. Navalny recorded two videos to introduce their new movement; they were his début on YouTube. One was a forty-second argument for gun rights. The other, a minute long, featured Navalny dressed as a dentist, presenting a slightly confusing parable that likened interethnic conflict in Russia to cavities and argued that fascism can be prevented only by deporting migrants from Russia. Navalny closed his monologue with “We have a right to be [ethnic] Russians in Russia. And we will defend this right.” It is decidedly disturbing to view. Around the time Navalny released the video, and for a couple of years after, Navalny took part in the Russian March, an annual demonstration in Moscow that draws ultranationalists, including some who adopt swastika-like symbols. In 2008, Navalny, like an apparent majority of Russians, supported Russian aggression in Georgia. In 2013, he made illegal immigration from Central Asia a central theme of his campaign for mayor of Moscow. In 2014, after Russia occupied Crimea, he said that, while he opposed the invasion, he did not think that Crimea could be just “handed back” by a post-Putin Russian government. In the past seven years, though, Navalny appears to have not made any comments that could be interpreted as hateful or ethno-nationalist. He has publicly apologized for his comments on Georgia.

Navalny’s political views have developed in an unusually public way over the past decade. He has never apologized for his earliest xenophobic videos or his decision to attend the Russian March. At the same time, he has adopted increasingly leftleaning economic positions and has come out in support of the right to same-sex marriage. This strategy of adopting new positions—without ever explicitly denouncing old ones—is probably the reason the suspicion of ethno-nationalism continues to shadow Navalny.


Almost Marx

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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