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Professor on AAASS panel assesses Putin’s prospects

Introduced by the moderator as “the only panelist who can say, ‘I told you so,'” Professor J. Michael Waller took part in a panel discussion on Russian politics as part of the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS, pronounced “triple-A, double-S”).

The question put forth before the November 18 panel was, “Is the Putin Project ‘Doable’?”

Panelists included the noted economist Anders Åslund of the Institute for International Economics, Andrew Scott Barnes of Kent State University, and Christopher Marsh of Baylor College.

Waller stood in for Fiona Hill, the National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council.

Åslund argued convincingly that Putin will fail.

Waller took a slightly different view, saying that the Russian leader can succeed – as long as he continues to centralize power; keeps the ability to give and to take away through patronage, property seizures and corruption; divides and cows the opposition in politics and the press; ensures the near-elimination of basic human rights such as free speech and property rights; maintains his network of KGB appointees through all levels of government and into the private sector; ensures no national reconciliation with the Soviet past; maintains official secrets to continue to cover up Soviet crimes; nurtures the climate of fear to criticize his rule, including official corruption; tolerates or encourages the assassination of his critics, and other policies and trends.  

The IWP professor said that the West should not be overly impressed with Russia’s economic progress, as effective dictators generally depend on the emergence of a viable economy and a strong middle class that is dependent on the government’s ability to give and to take away.

Other panelists compared Putin’s government to the old Suharto regime of Indonesia.

The panel was sponsored by Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, and moderated by journal founder Fredo Arias-King.