Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting Russia right

When Americans look at Russia, they see what they want to see. And that's dangerous.

If you can't separate your biases from your analysis, your analyses will usually turn out to be wrong. One might argue that precisely this has been the case over the past few decades. In the 1990s, Westerners (and especially the Clinton administration) trumpeted Boris Yeltsin's success at leading Russia forward into a bright democratic future -- while ordinary Russians were experiencing an everyday existence marked by evaporating savings, rampant sleaze, chronically unpaid salaries, triumphant Chechen rebels, mafia shootouts, and patently unfair privatizations that left just seven men controlling most of the country's industrial assets. The architect of that privatization effort, Anatoly Chubais, was hailed by Washingtonians as a young, tech-savvy genius (he brought a laptop to meetings!), while most Russians saw him as the nauseating epitome of a corrupt new system that didn't even trouble to conceal its injustices.

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