Aleksandr Buzgalin says that Western sanctions are fueling a new sense of nationalism and pride, but it serves the oligarchs who want a more powerful state and armed forces to pursue their “Jurassic Capitalism” economic agenda.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
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Russia has been in the news quite a bit this week with news of Russian convoys being sent to Eastern Ukraine to help with the ongoing humanitarian crisis there. This also followed the news of Russia blocking food imports from countries that have imposed sanctions on it, countries like the United States and members of the European Union.
Now joining us from Crimea to help us analyze these actions is our guest, Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University.
Thank you for being with us, Aleksandr.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMY, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Thank you for invitation.
DESVARIEUX: So, Aleksandr, Russia’s state-owned media has been touting this import ban as sort of a boon for local industry. They’ve claimed that the ban will harm European businesses, forcing Europe to rethink the energy and financial sanctions it imposed on Russia last month. What’s really behind this news, Aleksandr?
BUZGALIN: So, first of all, this is very beginning of, let’s say, economic war. But fortunately now it’s not big-scale operations and it’s not big-scale problems, both for Russia, European Union, and United States.
Really, of course, our country needs reverse of internal production, especially in agriculture, and we are speaking about the necessity during all 20 years of so-called market reforms. And the last two years, we had two very big economic forums in Moscow, Moscow Economic Forum 2013 and 2014, where we said that reverse and restoration of internal agricultural production and industry, this is extremely important goals, and for this we need state regulation, redistribution of wealth from oligarchs to their production and ordinary people, and so on and so far.
Now sanctions from the West became something like a negative push, which maybe can lead to the growth of state support for internal production and some positive transactions interconnected with state support of agriculture and the real-sector industry, transport and so on. Till now, this is still, I want to stress, not very big scale of economic changes.
Also I want to add that some European countries will not agree and already did not agree with sanctions, and they said that they prefer to keep sailing to Russia for the cheese, the milk production, some vegetables, and so on. And this is the case. So I think it will be not complete blockade from the Russian side and not complete sanctions from European side.
DESVARIEUX: Whose interest is it to really support this import ban?
BUZGALIN: So it’s a complex system of contradictions, interests, and intentions. First of all, as I said, there is objective need to support Russian internal production, because in past it was, and it is until now, in a very deep recession for 20 years, with only partly restorated level of Soviet Union. And it was not very efficient at very high level. So it’s a real necessity, objective necessity, first.
Second, there are some business people and some state officials who are interconnected with real sector, and for whom this is a useful opportunity to increase their production, because we hope that state will support agriculture industry and other forms and spheres of real sector in Russia. So it can be useful for Russian producers, workers, engineers, who will have more jobs, who will have better wage, and so on.
From another side, it can be problems for consumers, especially those who are oriented on the Western style of deluxe cheese, for example, or something like that, because, of course, in Russia we can produce potato, in the South of Russia there are a lot of tomatoes, and so on and so far.
In any case, I think this is not really a very big problem. This is maybe potentially a good opportunity for reverse of Russian internal production. That’s it.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. What about President Putin, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and him in calling for this? What is his popularity like right now in Russia? And are these moves helping him win public favor?
BUZGALIN: This Putin situation is, again, very contradictory, and I will explain this contradiction, because I think it’s extremely important for all foreign listeners, all foreign people to understand these contradictions. From one side, Putin was and is a real element of our Jurassic Park capitalism. And this is a unity of power, economic, political power, oligarchs and top bureaucracies. They are together in one bloc. And it is reality during last ten years, and now we do not have big changes.
But we have changes in the intentions of our big business corporations in gas, oil, other raw material production, and in a big part of bureaucracy. What are these changes? I think, first of all, the Russian big corporations, partly transnational corporations, such as gas, oil corporations, and not only, they understood during last years, even before war in Ukraine, that they’re like not old brothers, but young brothers of Western transnational corporations. And when Russian oligarchs wanted, for example, to buy shares of big international companies, they were refused. They did not receive opportunity to buy, according to normal market price, shares of Western corporations. Then they have a feeling that they’re, let’s say, [second-sort (?)] people when they’re coming with their money to Britain or to United States or to any other country.
And they decided to help themself to be represented in the international affairs like real subject which has strong force behind them. For this purpose, they need to have strong state, with army, with fleet, with aviation, and so on and so far. It was first intention. Second intention is to develop a military-industrial complex, because it’s impossible on [incompr.] on their raw materials forever. It’s necessary to find new and new spheres for these oligarch incomes. And they decided that state budget and military expenses is good case for their enrichment. This is one part of contradictions, and here they are together with bureaucratic ambitions, state ambitions, or, if I can say, little empire ambitions or periphery empire ambitions of Russian bureaucracy and Russian elite.
But there is another part of, another side of this contradiction, and extremely important one. Russian people were citizens which lost the feeling of their country as really respectable country in past—and this memory’s still alive—when we were citizens of the second superpower. And we lost this. And it became part of the country, citizens of the country, which is famous only as country of Mafia, poverty, and oligarchs, nothing else. And national respect, self-respect, is important for self-consciousness in any country. And now Russians—all nations, by the way, in Russia, not totally [incompr.] our people; many other nations—they have reverse of national feelings, feelings of proud, that we are citizens of a strong state. I am not sure that Russia is really strong state, but everybody in Russia—not everybody, but majority in Russia wants to be citizens of strong state, want to be respectable as citizens of their state. And this is important.
And this is both positive and negative aspects of patriotism. Positive is interconnected with the reverse of new type of interests, values. Before, we had 90 percent domination of pragmatic market values—money, money, private property, private property, nothing else. Competition and private income—that’s it. Now, especially because of this military conflict, war in the southeast, in Donetsk, Lugansk, Russians received feeling of necessity to defend the country, motherland, to defend their native life or lives, to be fighters not only for private interests, but for the interests of the society as a whole. And this is positive trend. And this is not even very rational. This is in some aspects going from soul, from heart, not from brains.
There is another aspect, negative one, interconnected with reverse in growth—not reverse; it was during many years—growth of Russian nationalism, great-power chauvinism, a lot of speculations around reverse of Russia’s empire, and so on and so far. I really hate this, and for me this is very negative trend, but this is also reality.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Aleksandr Buzgalin, joining us from Crimea.
Thank you so much for being with us.
BUZGALIN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.