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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hedgehogs and Foxes Continue Age-Old Battle

As in Isaiah Berlins masterful depiction of Tolstoys view of history, the nations ruling elite can be divided into two groups: hedgehogs and foxes. They represent two forces at loggerheads, both desiring to determine the fate and meaning of the nations most recent revolution. Under President Vladimir Putin, one group will attain (or retain) hegemony, though not without a drawn-out fight from both sides.

I will define the hedgehog and fox in the Russian context. Hedgehogs are fascinated by the infinite variety of things, seeing opportunities everywhere and taking advantage of them. Put differently: so much to steal, so little time. For them, the political system is irrelevant. Foxes are those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. This is a special breed of Russian revolutionaries born in times of distress. They can accept defeat in a minor skirmish and, without too many qualms, sacrifice one of their own or some ideal (for a time), having ultimate victory as their goal.

The first decade of this revolution was ruled by a group of hegemonic hedgehogs. This hegemony is now being challenged. Putins "state of the union address" and offensive against "crony capitalism" stand as a primer of things to come.

What does this mean for Russia and Putins revolution? Arent there only sharks and snakes ruling the country, with everyone else forgotten and despised? Actually, what the country is experiencing today is the rallying of foxes, initiating battle with hedgehogs of the Boris Yeltsin era.

To me, Putin may resemble a frog, but in reality he is a fox. He is a fox intimidated by the hedgehogs because of his age and his good fortune at being sponsored initially by some hedgehogs. This is changing, however, ever so slowly; many an "oligarch" would no doubt agree. Russias zoophagous world is redefining itself; it is as fascinating and entertaining as it is dangerous. The "Soviet pre-capitalist man" is undergoing a metamorphosis. The old (communist) regime implicitly taught self-interest under the cloak of collective social justice. Yeltsin and his hedgehogs did everything in their power to confuse, reinterpret and bastardize this political grammar, leaving only chaos in their wake and an intensely divided society and paralyzed state. Now they stand to reap the whirlwind.

Is the conflict among the nations elites strictly politics versus monied interests? No. Life is rarely so simple; theories, never so airtight. But within the political establishment, many levers of state power remain in the hands of the hedgehogs due to their position in the economy. Putin aims to dislodge them and judging from his "honeymoon" as president, his success rate is dubious at best.

This is one of the biggest problems when understanding politics and business: The division is rarely clear, and the scandalous appointment of Viktov Kalyuzhny as deputy foreign minister comes to mind. The Communist Partys leadership and Vladimir Zhirinovskys mandarins are quintessential hedgehogs, selling themselves to the highest bidder for their so-called national ideals. Hedgehogs are the most frightening nationalists, the most harmful and reckless "rent-seekers." The security forces appear to be a mixture of both groups: one assemblage "fat and happy" after a decade of fleecing the state, the other fearful as to how politicized some in their clan really have become. The latter groups members look to Putin as their new messiah. If Putin wishes to be their messiah, he will fail. If he desires to be a leader, he just might succeed.

The nations nascent civil society is suspicious of both hedgehogs and foxes, doubting the motives of all those in power. Civic skepticism is always healthy. It is no wonder the scandal sheet Speed a quintessential example of authority avoidance is so popular. But hedgehogs are indifferent to civil society; foxes will prey upon it. Hedgehogs equate what is good for themselves as good for everyone. Foxes can be very base, and their seductive forces are becoming all too apparent. Being base means playing on the weaknesses of the spirit and not the strengths of the mind. (I am still confounded by the fact that a semi-authoritarian state cant determine who is really responsible for last falls Moscow bombings. It would appear the "dictatorship of Kukly" predates the election of the president.)

Foxes, like hedgehogs, can be seduced by their own power. Hubris and fear are the greatest threats to Russia today. Thus, the ultimate question is: What is the primary goal of the fox contingent Russia or its own survival? I still believe Russia (so far as the foxes understand it) ranks higher than personal aggrandizement. I do not see a return to the past, though I do see the state continuing to flex its muscles. The revolution continues.

As the foxes mount their campaign, some of the hedgehogs will falter, hoping for redemption in spite of their creed and past. Among others, Vladimir Gusinky, Vladimir Potanin and Boris Berezovsky, as well as the "Family," may ultimately be spared complete destruction not due to benevolence, but because they will be able to be recruited to serve the "new cause." The new unspoken slogan is this: "You have more riches than you could possibly spend; keep and enjoy them someplace else or in silence. Well take over from here." Thats not an unfair proposition for those who have never had the national interest at stake.

Ladies and gentlemen, the "congress of victors" is in session, so be prepared for what follows. Immunity or not, judgment is coming. Lets hope the "rule of law" will become something meaningful in this country with the fall of the "oligarchs" the lack of such a principle allowed them to accumulate enormous riches at the expense of everyone else. But lets also hope taking down the "oligarchs" does not make a mockery of the "rule of law."

It is incorrect to assume Putinism will be a zero-sum game, extremely unlikely in the post-communist setting. Yeltsin may be out, but his minimalist achievements are not. A fox understands this well. How will Putin serve the national interest? He has the rhetoric down pat considering the circumstances; his actions to date appear a bit hazy, but on track nonetheless.

Having said this, I will buck the conventional wisdom. I believe Putin is here for the long haul. The battle between the foxes and hedgehogs has only begun; the battlefield is only now coming into focus, giving civil society a further respite to develop. I am not speaking about weeks or a number of months, but another decade.

My view of Russia is about what it might be some day, not what it should be now. This is the mistake the West has made for a decade, perhaps for the last half century. I attempt to understand this nation in a systemic fashion, as opposed to what used to be known as Sovietology, or "who has Kremlin parking privileges?" I actually think more about civil society; the elite should be nothing more than the stuff of headlines on the 11:00 p.m. news and of irreverent late-night talk shows intended for popular disparagement of public figures.

Tolstoy probably would not approve of Russias most recent version of "War and Peace" according to Berlins foxes and hedgehogs but at least he would understand it.

Peter J. Lavelle is head of research at IFC Metropol. This essay was first published with the SKATE Information Agency.