Monday, August 18, 2014

St. Petersburg to Moscow, and Back

AUG. 17, 2014

MOSCOW — When the Kremlin announced a ban this month on food imports from the United States and the European Union, Russian social networks exploded with jokes about the empty store shelves in the Soviet Union. But the shelves won’t be empty; they’ll simply be stocked with mostly basic and bland items, a reflection of government policies that are pulling the country back to the past and highlighting its inner tensions.

Western sanctions and Russian countersanctions have laid bare the interdependent connections between President Vladimir Putin, his oligarch courtiers and his supporters among the broader population. He will use his control over oligarch wealth to alleviate the difficulties sanctions will bring to his followers, while his critics and those Russians who are not part of his base will likely face tough times.

If the economic standoff is protracted, the country’s power structure will gradually revert to the rigid social order and top-down redistribution system that characterized both Soviet Russia and the old Russia prior to the reign of Peter the Great. For centuries the Muscovite court ruled by patronage. The grand prince, or later, the czar, would give his boyars regular handouts of food and clothes. His ministers were entitled to food and services from the people, and were allowed a share of the court fees and taxes that they were responsible to collect.

(More here.)


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