Kremlin Inc.

This week’s New Yorker has a lengthy article by Michael Specter entitled “Kremlin Inc.: Why are Vladimir Putin’s Opponents Dying?” The article is not available online. But lawyer Robert Amsterdam has provided a .pdf scan of it for those who don’t have access to the New Yorker. You can read it here.

The article is not so much about Putin’s opponents as it is about the nature of Russia under Putin. In fact, the question posed in the article’s subtitle—Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?—is not directly answered. Perhaps his editors added it to make the article sexier. The only true dissident featured in the article is Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder is treated as a metaphor for Putin’s Russia. As Specter himself notes, Russia has traded stability for liberal democracy. Putin has put Russia back on a solid economic and political footing, returning it to an indispensable player in global affairs. This success did not come without cost. They have come as a result of tighter media and political control.

It would be a mistake, according to Specter’s article, to attribute this process wholly to the Putin years. It began under Yeltsin and was only centralized into the hands of the state under Putin. Whereas media in the 1990s was a weapon of Moscow’s oligarchs to wage information war against their economic and political opponents, under Putin, the state employs the media for its own ends. “Propaganda,” Specter writes, “has become more sophisticated and possibly more effective than it was during the Soviet years, when television was the tool used to sustain an ideology. The goal today is simpler: to support the Kremlin and its corporate interests.” If this is the case, and I believe it is, Russia has come inline with a process that has been occurring in the West for the last few decades: the concentration of the media into fewer and fewer hands all for the benefit of corporate interests. As the Wall Street Journal recently stated, “To many investors, Mr. Putin is a hero. The reason: the Russian stock market’s spectacular rally during his seven years of rule.”

For more discussion of Specter’s article, I also recommend listening to this interview with him on PRI’s The World.