Thursday, October 18, 2007

tell me about putin and how russia can put in (part I)

for the deep turkish psyche, russia signifies the invincible evil behemoth that ate up the ottoman empire. barely a century ago, the tzar's generals were drinking vodka and celebrating their crushing victory over the sultan's unsubstantial armies a stone's throw from the palace by the bosporus. russian soldiers were flirting with the girls of agio stefanos, or, with the name we know it by today, yeşilköy - just south of the atatürk international airport that lies smack in the middle of istanbul.

fear and aversion of russia was so ingrained, turkey was the only country in the western bloc where a communist party was totally and often violently banned from 1923 to 1990s, until communism collapsed. this is a weird contradiction since turkey's political, economic and cultural structure reflected a centrality, homogeneity and monotony that any sovietic-socialist government would envy (1). even today, as even a blind man can see, very typical of sovietic socialist social organization, in turkey, the state is far stronger than society (2). in my (not so) humble opinion, that is why turkey is doomed to remain a mediocre presence in the league of world politics but that is not the issue now. suffice to say, cold-war turkey was less threatened by the idea of communism as a political regime than russia, which was communist, and could use the "partnership" to manipulate turkey.

the issue is russia. particularly after vladimir putin last week put (3) his foot in the near-eastern soup cauldron, in support of iran's suicidal, as well as homicidal nuclear craze... and now that turkey is preparing to nose-dive into the gravy, moscow has reemerged or has been remembered as a factor to reckon with.

some 10 years ago, when the soviet weary and wary west was drowning its dollars (no € then) in boris yeltsin's vodka glass, i was busy maintaining that it was a waste. russia would (and will) never garner the paper-tiger power the soviets did or were made to look like they did.

then putin began to put in his magic wand to the brew. very despoticallly, he created a plethora of non-capitalist but private conglomerates which practically expropriated the state's resources. these conglomerates functioned as privately owned and managed companies under state control. they had access to gigantic material and financial opportunities and soon turned into fairly competitive players in the global market. they were large, big, sumptuous and fairly competent in world trade but inside, their colophon read "property of the ex-sovietic state of mother russia" (4). in one way, russia's economic success that putin put in the books is a matter of reorganization with efficiency in mind; something all bureaucracies can achieve if some despot puts his mind and devotion in it. the russian on the street was already oriented toward a middle class lifestyle in the late soviet era. recent economic growth let poverty drop and a middle class grow. foreign direct investments - mostly in energy enterprises- increased, too.

however,russian economy is still relatively a backward one, using the measure that says a developed economy is less dependent on income from natural resources than the power to transform them into commodities and services... russia's exports consist by 80 percent of oil, natural gas, metals, and timber (5). the industries that the world's second superpower was once so proud of, are derelict and unproductive.

this portrait leaves russia as a minor economic power world-wide but supposedly affords it the brute strength it can bully other states with. can that really be so?

russia still finances its growth and its progressively middle class welfare with what it exports to the prosperous west. a fossil energy crisis caused by, say, a russian embargo (which is singularly unlikely by reason of insanity) may undermine the west's economic security for a short while but russia thus forfeits not only its chief revenues (6) but also almost all of the monies that flow in through its borders for other reasons.

so, in effect, russia is a bear that barks (is that what bears do?) with ultimate reluctance to bite. and this is only the economics of the problematique, without going into russia's entanglements with its own "democracy" and its ambitions over control of the mainly oil-based wealth of the asian "turkic" states.

thus, russia's political worth appears as a derivative function of what it signified as the empire of evil during the cold war. it is basicallly, an assumed power to scare. it is invalid once people refuse to be afraid of it.

(1) one time turkish premier tansu çiller had complained while grappling with the resistance to privatizations that she was trying to "dismantle the last remaining communist state in europe", in the 90s.
(2) a chief criterion for karl august wittfogel (1957) to distinguish an oriental despotism.
(3) putin had put it in previously too, when he let europe freeze over gas prices.
(4) since the union and progress party led "revolution" of 1908, the equally strong and inbound state apparatus of turkey has been trying to do the same, with little success to speak of. turkey never dispensed the opportunities and finances as putin put in the russian "private" companies; for fear that any emerging social force could topple the state's ultimate supremacy. all it offered was conditions for profitable (in many cases, profiteerable) import substitution between 1958-1982; at a time when second tier economies were turning global.
(5) cf. cia factbook
(6) 32 percent of the state's revenues according to the cia. by the way, iran, too, needs to finance its nuclear craze as well as its wayward allies as hamas with oil revenues.

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