Is Russia Becoming Africa?

The dislocation of the massive Russian ice shelf in 1992 and its subsequent drift out into the open sea has long since defied any expert prediction. Some optimists, particularly in Washington D.C., naively believed political democracy would take firm hold under Boris Yeltsin. Even as he collapsed in a drunken stupor Yeltsin was painted as the hero of our time by romantics like Martin Malia in the New York Review of Books. After all, had not anti-Communism finally won? Others believed that the arbitrary resdistribution of economic and financial assets in the mid-1990s would create a ruling property owning oligarchy that would see it as in its core interest to sustain such a democracy. Still more believed that the Western embrace, cultural as well as political and economic would prove irresistible as rich Russians arrived in the headmaster’s office at Winchester College in England with suitcases stuffed with money for their sons’ education. Could Britain once again play Greece to the new Rome? Doubts inevitably arose as to how ordinary Russians would respond to high-minded Western patronage at the hands of well-meaning evangelical pastors passing out free teachers of English to any secondary school provided they taught through the St. James version of the bible. Pessimists, on the other hand, like the late Lord Williams of Elvel, Charles Powell, Mrs. Thatcher’s former foreign policy adviser, and ex-MI6 spymistress Daphne Park, tended to believe that bad Russia would remain bad Russia regardless. All of this proved true, in parts. But the net result, still in a process of agonising formation, at the moment remains a mosaic that looks like nothing we have seen before. Except, that is, when a president is preparing to be ruler for life, less in the model of the Japanese genro than in the model of the dictators of Africa.