Putinization in Russia and the USA

Putinization is a word I first came across when I read an interview of Julian Assange in 2011. It means a society that is in the process of having a market economy and a democratic government taken over by patronage networks—people in positions of power doing favors for the less powerful, the less powerful being loyal to the powerful patrons.

I think Vladimir Putin is a statesman Machiavelli or Bismarck would have respected—a realist, not a moralist.   I think what he said about international law in his Valdai speech is true and important, and, as an American, I find it humiliating that a former KGB official is in a position to lecture my country’s leders on international norms of conduct.

But I don’t think Putin is a good person, I don’t think Putin’s Russia is a good place.  My great fear for my country is Putinization, as characterized by Julian Assange below.

When I was in Russia in the 1990s, I used to watch NTV in Moscow. NTV was the freest TV I have ever seen. … At that time, Russia had something like 10 independent points of power.  It had the army.  It had the remnants of the KGB and the external KGB, which ended up becoming the SVR.  It had Yeltsin and his daughter, and the mob.  It had some broader mish-mash of bureaucracy left over from the Soviet Union.  It had seven oligarchs.

2014-03-07-PUTINIn terms of media control, that meant the state plus the oligarchs with their own independent media.  The result was, you could actually put out almost anything you wanted under the patronage or protection of one of these groups.…

[Then] Putin came in.  He tamed the oligarchs.  Some were arrested, some had their assets seized, and some were exiled. The result was, they fell in under Putin’s centralized patronage pyramid.  The ownership of the TV stations also reined [in] popular democracy under Putin’s pyramid.  Now, in order to get anything of scale done in Russia, you have to have a sponsor in the pyramid somewhere.

obama-putin_16In the United States, I see a rivalry between the modern form of the military industrial complex and Wall Street for this central pyramid. The military industrial complex has been aggressively broadening and expanding its share of that patronage system. … …

There’s a vast shadow state of private companies hooked into the secrecy system, into national security system, and an ever-expanding number of new government bureaucracies as well.  It’s very worrying that in the United States, that area is heading towards a Putinization.  What Putin and the siloviki [1] did to Russia, that system is doing to United States. And it’s not just the US, but a broader Western patronage network.

The Western world is slowly being Putinized.  It has progressed the most in the United States.

But there is a rivalry with the banking sector, and it’s not clear who is going to win. It’s not even clear, as time goes by, that these will even be two separate, rival systems. Rather, the privatization of the national security sector means that, as time goes by … Wall Street and the national security sector are … actually starting to merge at certain points … …


In Conversation with Julian Assange Part I and Part II, an interview by Hans Ulbrich Obrist for E-flux.  The long quotation above is from Part II.

Putin’s Speech to the Valdai Discussion Club: New Rules or a Game Without Rules.  The official translation.

Putin’s World Outlook by Gleb Pavlovsky, interviewed in New Left Review.

Putin’s Bank Trail Runs From Communist Cash to Russia’s New Billionaires by Irina Reznik and Evgenia Pismennaya for Bloomberg News.

SISTEMA by Peter Pomeranstev for the London Review of Books.

Russia’s Surveillance State by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan for World Policy Review.

Vladimir Putin creating ‘worst human rights climate since Soviet times’ by Harriet Alexander for The Telegraph.

Vladimir’s Tale by Anne Applebaum for the New York Review of Books.

Putin’s win is a hollow victory for a Russian free press by Peter Preston for The Guardian.

The Accidental Autocrat by Paul Starobin for The Atlantic. (2005).

[1] Silovik plural: siloviki, a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, the FSB, the Federal Narcotics Control Service and military or other security services, who came into power. World Pulse.

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