As crazy as it sounds, the oligarchs could save Russia
By Chrystia Freeland
One of the great debates about
The war with democratic
But this sad conclusion has left us with another, trickier dilemma: what can we do instead? The initial answers have been sobering. Having finally agreed that the new
For one thing, there is
Moreover, like long-suffering vegetarians who have rediscovered the pleasures of eating meat, Russian leaders have bitten into their new role as the world's tough guys with relish. They have had all the best lines of the conflict, with even the small and scholarly-looking Mr Medvedev growling that "if anyone thinks they can kill our citizens . . . we will come out with a crushing response".
But, for all the parallels between the current conflict and the stand-offs of the cold war, it is worth remembering that today's Russia has not yet regressed to the days of the USSR. Russians are less free than they were one decade ago, but vastly more free than they were two decades ago. Mr Putin and his siloviki, the security and military forces, have done an impressive job restoring central political control, but they are Amnesty International compared with the comprehensive, totalitarian grip of the Communist party of the
Most importantly, notwithstanding Mr Putin's efforts to reassert state authority over what Lenin called "the commanding heights of the economy", this time
Of course, thinking of the Russian oligarchs as the good guys will take some getting used to. For one thing, one of the casualties when Russian tanks rolled past Gori was the beguiling "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention" proposed by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist: "No two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other." Alas, you can buy Big Macs in both
Moreover, when it comes to the oligarchs themselves, kowtowing to the Kremlin is their first commandment: the ones who did not realise that have long since been subject to expropriation, exile or imprisonment. Indeed,
Yet even with all of those caveats, business is the most progressive force with any remaining power in
Psychologically, they are different, too.
This brings me to my modest proposal. The west must, of course, be determined in using the few formal tools it has for hemming in a resurgent
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008