Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#8 - JRL 7035
Prime-TASS: Russia's ever-more-visible Janus-face
Contributed by Peter Lavelle, Moscow-based analyst, columnist for the
Russia Journal, plavelle@rol.ru

Being an avid reader of just about anything related to Russia,
including the what is posted by the good folks at Prime-TASS, I have
begun to notice a growing division of how this country is covered both
by international and domestic media outlets. There is a certain
bi-polar compartmentalization occurring, the divisions fall roughly
into two categories - the socio-political and the finance-economic.
The latter is inviting, encouraging, and matter of fact. The former is
cold, standoffish, and evasive. The phenomenon is very much akin to
the Roman deity Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the
second focused on the past. As it is January, the reason we start the
New Year in this particular month, it should be a worthwhile exercise
to explore how the idea of this Roman deity applies to Russia.

First the upside, Janus looking forward conveys the normalizing that
all of us wish for Russia. The announcement that the state intends to
mandate that all large companies report financial result using IAS by
the year over the next few years sounds ambitious, but inspiring
nonetheless. Economic growth - something that seems to have dropped
out the everyday lexicon of the West - is becoming the norm in Russia.
We are no longer surprised by the fact that Russia's economy is
growing; we just want to see it grow faster and larger. Solid and
meaningful corporate governance is catching on as well. Russia's
oligarchs will control the lion share of the economy for a long time
to come, but they clearly that the day the state gets out of the
business - the sooner the better, Russian companies will be poised to
be re-rated in accordance with their international peers. In sum,
corporate Russia is making progress on a number of fronts that it has
a right to be proud of, especially when one takes into consideration
that the rent-seeking state never gives up without fight.

Janus looking backward can send a chill down one's spin. The recent
"visa crisis", barring people of faith from the country, and the
unceremonious one-way ticket for one particular foreign union activist
demonstrates Russia's more disturbing side. The debacle - part two -
surrounding Gazprom-Media, NTV and the government's opaque attitude
toward a free media and the state's role in defining of what freedom
of expression in Russia is as incomprehensible as ever. The backward
looking Janus never desired to return to the past, the past was a
useful guide to move forward, with certainty and confidence. Russia is
not returning the past, but it certainly returning to some (Soviet)
practices. Spy-mania, security and police forces seemingly out of
control and the almost morbid fear of foreigners are certainly
reminiscent of the 'old regime'.

Clearly the post-9-ll international concern with domestic security is
part of what is in play here. The current administration in the U.S.
is leading, at least rhetorically, in this regard. Russia appears more
than happy to follow this lead even if it is interpreted in a
different and harsher fashion. Calling the war being fought in
Chechnya a struggle against religious fanatics and foreign terrorist
groups has not changed anything concerning this on-going tragedy.
Calling this conflict by a different name has not the changed the fate
of the people living in Chechnya and the young recruits sent there.
Perceptions have clearly changed, the facts on the ground remains as
they were.

The other obvious issue that has come into play is the election
season. Putin and his government desire to look patriotic and are
quite willing to test its new alliance with the West to appear
populist. Being the junior partner in this alliance has its perks -
the right to agree to disagree pays Russia dividends and Putin has
proven himself to a very quick learning when it comes to extorting
political favor from the boss who has to deal with many junior

As this year looks to be full of conflict and war, the Bush people
will most likely cut Russia's present political elite the slack it
wants to maintain the political status quo to rule for at least during
this country's next parliament and presidency. Such an approach is an
obvious double-edged sword. Foreigners in Russia, some of the them
Americans, are being made to pay for American global foreign policy
that claims to be have the moral high ground on its side.

Russia's Janus-face is curious and full of contradictions. Maybe this
is what Russia's transition process away from the Soviet Union is all
about? The West obviously should not lecture, but should not be the
reason - for security reasons or otherwise - to talk up a political
strategy that encourages business while watching civil society being
placed in a tight and well-guard black box. Business development, in
the end, should be a service provided as a set of choices for a civil
society to spend its hard earned income. At some point, Russians
businesses will understand this. Eventually, the two-faced mask of
Janus has to be appropriated by the business community and civil
society. If it does not, the future of both Russian businesses and the
government itself is in doubt. Russia's bi-polar compartmentalization
of politics and business has a very poignant historical legacy. The
double face of Janus looks for balance, not at two worlds that cannot
understand each other.

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