The Kremlin Plans to Modernize Russia, Again


22-02-20 07:12:00,

The US media’s three-year obsession with the mostly fictitious allegations of “Russiagate” has all but obscured, even deleted, important, potentially historic, developments inside that nation itself, still the world’s largest territorial country. One of the most important is the Putin government’s decision to invest $300 to $400 billion of “rainy day” funds in the nation’s infrastructure, especially in its vast, underdeveloped provinces, and on “national projects” ranging from education to health care and family services to transportation and other technology. If successfully implemented, Russia would be substantially transformed and the lives of its people significantly improved.

Not surprisingly, however, the plan has aroused considerable controversy and public debate in Russia’s policy elite, primarily for two reasons. The funds were accumulated largely due to high world prices for Russia’s energy exports and the state’s budgetary austerity during the decade after Putin came to power in 2000, and they have been hoarded as a safeguard against Western economic sanctions and/or a global economic depression. (Russia’s economic collapse in the Yeltsin 1990s, perhaps the worst modern-day depression in peacetime, remains a vivid memory for policymakers and ordinary citizens alike.)

There is also the nation’s long, sometimes traumatic, history of “modernization from above,” as it is termed. In the late 19th century, the Tsarist regime’s program to industrialize the country, “to catch up” with other world powers, had unintended consequences that led, in the accounts of many historians, to the end of Tsarism in the 1917 revolution. And Stalin’s “revolution from above” of the 1930s, based on the forced collectivization of the peasantry, which at the time accounted for more than 80 percent of the population, along with very rapid industrialization, resulted in millions of deaths and economic distortions that burdened Soviet and post-Soviet Russia for decades.

Nor are Russia’s alternative experiences of modernization from below inspiring or at least instructive. In the 1920s, during the years known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP, the victorious Bolsheviks pursued evolutionary economic development through a semi-regulated market economy. It had mixed—and still disputed—results, and it was brutally abolished by Stalin in 1929. Decades later, Yeltsin’s “free-market reforms” were widely blamed for the ruination and widespread misery of the 1990s, which featured many aspects of actual de-modernization.

With all this “living history” in mind,

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