Time to Apply Fresh Coat of Paint to Russia

Liberals and patriots have one thing in common. Both are prone to hysterics. During the eight years of Vladimir Putin's presidency, we had to put up with the ranting of the liberal faction. They raised alarms about Putin's "bloody regime," the "threat of fascism" and the country's imminent concentration camps.

Now the situation has changed. The liberals are gradually settling down, realizing that the current administration -- despite all its crimes and manipulations -- isn't all that bad after all. This time, it is the patriots who are in hysterics.

This change in mood is due to President-elect Dmitry Medvedev's victory at the polls and his first public statements. Although he has not even taken office, both the patriots' hysterics and the liberals' hopes are already in full swing. The liberals are clearly hoping that Medvedev's inauguration in May will mark the end of the Putin-era nightmare and that, with Medvedev replacing the dictatorship of the Kremlin siloviki, the country will see a kinder and gentler administration, guided by the rule of law, human rights, a market economy and an open society.

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Conversely, the patriots are promising that we will see every possible horror -- the betrayal of our national interests, capitulation to the United States and the weakening of Russia as a powerful state. In short, a return to the Yeltsin era.

Strangely, neither the patriots nor the liberals bother asking why both President Boris Yeltsin and Putin named successors who had principles vastly different from their respective mentors. Of course, it is natural that different people have different methods for running the country.

But there is a certain unalterable sequence and structure to the process of building something new. First, you must demolish the old building that stands in the way, then you clear away the rubble, and finally you build the new structure.

And when that process is complete, it is time to begin painting and decorating the building, taking care that the facade will look good for the neighbors. And it is precisely this function that will fall to Medvedev. He will be responsible for applying a fresh coat of paint to the building.

After the newly minted oligarchs rushed to snatch up factories and oil fields in the 1990s, the time came to establish order.

It became necessary to strengthen the state in order to protect the interests of the new ruling elite, who began to see that their interests did not always coincide with Washington's. For example, Russian big business has been eager to profit off Iran's nuclear program or by delivering armaments to Venezuela -- both of which are anathema to U.S. policy.

Once the siloviki complete their task of restoring and strengthening the integrity of the state's structure, the keys to the building are ceremoniously handed over to the liberal faction surrounding Medvedev. Everybody is happy except those ideologues who became so focused on the minute details of the construction process that they have lost sight of the larger architectural plan.

One of the most unpleasant aspects is that the authorities look at ideologues as disposable workers whom they can either retain or throw away to the trash heap depending on the particular task at hand. For example, liberal, pro-Western ideologues were in demand under Yeltsin but had no value whatsoever under Putin. They were dismissed rather politely, and it was only due to their own shortsightedness that they rushed to join the ranks of the opposition. Now the same unpleasant thing is happening to the patriots.

In contrast to the ideologues, the Kremlin knows very well what structure it is building, and for whom. But this by no means guarantees that the building was constructed properly or that one fine day it won't come crashing down on the heads of those who ordered it built.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.