Mikhail Khazin, a popular Russian economist, has recently published an article with a historical and economic slant entitled “The Golden Age of Catherine II or the Problems of Catch-Up Modernization.” This piece begins quite traditionally but ends in an offbeat way. But first thing first.
At first Khazin debunks one of the concepts that “justifies the current situation in our country -- the concept of “golden age” of Catherine II (Catherine the Great). Allegedly, even in those days people lived poorly, noblemen and officials kept stealing, but the country was developing and expanding. And that is why there is no need to change anything, everything will be fine anyway!” Khazin presents a strong case that this concept doesn’t work because Catherine the Great, and two previous Russian empresses -- Anna Ioannovna and Elizabeth Petrovna -- had an opportunity to enjoy the “golden age” of the Russian Empire in the aftermath of two previous modernizations. The first modernization was carried out by Ivan the Terrible and the second, by Peter I. “By the end of the 18th century it became clear that the modernization would have to be carried out again,” Khazin says in his article, explaining for the well-known historical facts. This task was beyond what next three Russian tzars Paul I, Alexander I and Nicholas I could manage. Although each of them tried to solve the problem in his own way. As a result, Russia was defeated in the Crimean War. Finally, the modernization of the imperial mechanism was initiated by Alexander II. He abolished serfdom and carried out a number of belated but crucial reforms. “He has gone too far towards liberal objectives. That is why his death at the hands of a terrorist might have not taken some members of the court clique by surprise,” Khazin notes. The cohort of Grand Dukes was involved in the assassination of Alexander II. Wilhelm Stiber, the organizer of German intelligence and counterespionage and the closest associate of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck revealed it to him. By mutual consent between the heads of the two empires, he was in charge of organizing the espionage ring in Europe for his Russian colleagues. The most senior officials of Russia got into the conspiracy against reform-minded Czar Alexander II. One of them, Count Sergei Witte, who had connections with the Rothschild family, even offered Nikolay Mezentsov, the chief of Gendarmerie and Political Surveillance/ Investigations Department, to ponder an attempt on Alexander's II life. Alexander III, the son of the assassinated emperor, stopped vigorously the liberal reforms but apparently “went too far” in the opposite direction. Alexander III had a truly epic health and even hunted a bear only with a forked stick. His sudden death caused suspicions that he was poisoned. Back to Mikhail Khazin’s, he considers it a big mistake on the part of Alexander III to let British capital into Russia while the country was “a part of the German industrial zone.” The later period saw the failure of reforms initiated by Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin. As a result, Russia lost a war with Japan shamefully and then got entangled in the First World War. According to Khazin, Stalin's modernization helped Russia to survive, even during the Second World War. His modernization resulted in the “golden age” under Leonid Brezhnev’s tenure. Shortly afterwards, a new modernization was needed, which Gorbachev failed to cope with. As a consequence, Russia plunged into the Time of Troubles that still lasts until now. A new modernization has become of great necessity but this “another proto-class society of comprador capitalism that has emerged in the country through the efforts by (Yegor) Gaidar and his team is desperately resisting it.” According to Khazin, this resistance is partly due to the activities of the liberal elite grouping. It denies Russia's right to modernization and “asks to implement the plans to build a comprador state (with its inevitable subsequent collapse and absorption by external forces). However, the nature of the resistance is mostly internal -- the devoted patriots and anti-Westerners are desperately countering any attempts to impute responsibility for the results of work and thieving to the officials for sheer self-serving interests.” Mikhail Khazin assesses the situation in Russia as very disturbing. He tries to alert the Russian president to his concerns: “There is no alternative for Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. If he gives up on this modernization, his chances of avoiding the fate of Boris Godunov, Paul I or Alexander II will be extremely low.” What is behind this? A direct threat to the head of state or a recommendation from an expert feeling responsibility for the destiny of his motherland? The second assumption is more plausible. Moreover, Vladimir Putin has already reacted either to the overall situation in Russia or to Khazin’s alarming prediction. Recently, the President of the Russian Federation has severely criticized the builders of Vostochny spaceport. He stated that hundreds of millions of rubles have been stolen there. The following decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, according to which law enforcers can seize property not only from the families of corrupt officials but also from their immediate associated -- in case if it has been paid for with illicit monies, has drawn a response. Given all these facts, has the “elimination” of Russian corrupt officials, without which no modernization can take place, started in practical terms?