Bad Actor, Bad Institutions

I have been noticing a theme in the Western press (and not only the English language press) with regards to its coverage of Russia. It is one that I have commented on in the past, but it was really brought to the forefront when I saw the cover photo of this week’s Economist.

The implication is that President Vladimir Putin is the problem with Russia, and that the only solution is to oust him. The publications’ articles on the topic were not much better. One about Russian hipsters (yes, they do exist) and the revival of a kind of 1970s dissident culture in the country’s two main metropolises.

Another article explicitly placed the blame for what is happening solely at the feet of Putin and a few cronies.

For years we have been told that building institutions was the answer. That depending on a single actor to reform Russia was a mistake. But now problems that were once labelled “systemic” are the fault of a single bad actor. And removing that individual from power is the answer to all our problems.

Ignored in all of this is that Putin is the product of a bad system. A system that bred him, molded him, installed him in the President’s office, and sustains his grip on power. A system that rules by fiat, has no checks and balances, no respect for the rule of law, no private property rights… A system that is, as I have written here before, essentially still feudal in nature. A system that does not respect its own Constitution. And yet we expect these same people to adhere to international law.

Meanwhile, the billionaire Alexander Lebedev is operating illegally down in Crimea, building a hotel complex, and other tourist attractions. He is now hurt that Ukrainians are bothered by his actions.

He concludes his diatribe by essentially saying “we will all laugh about this over a glass of wine in 20 years”.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alexander Lebedev, and Alexei Navalny (just to name a few) have all said that they would not return Crimea to Ukraine if they were in power. But these are the “liberals” who Western pundits expect to lead Russia when the Putin era ends.

Well, good luck to them.

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