Mafia State

Stephen Holmes writes:

How to characterise the Putin regime, a now shaken and besieged ruling group sometimes said to be the richest in the history of the world? ‘Soft authoritarianism’, ‘hybrid regime’, ‘managed democracy’: the labels reveal less about Russia than about the inability of commentators to loosen the Cold War’s lingering hold on their thinking. Luke Harding was the Guardian correspondent in Russia between 2007 and 2011 who last February was turned back at Domodedovo Airport and told that his presence in the country was no longer welcome. An editorial in the Guardian described it as ‘the first removal of a British staff journalist from the country since the end of the Cold War’. Harding himself sees his account of Putin’s Russia as a kind of codicil to Malcolm Muggeridge’s denunciation of the Soviet Union when he was the Manchester Guardian’s correspondent in 1932-33. ‘Eight decades on,’ Harding writes, ‘not much has changed’: ‘Kremlinology is back’; Russia ‘has become the world’s foremost spy-state’; ‘KGB habits of secrecy’ have returned; ‘Russia’s state media are still stuck in Cold War battle mode.’

(LRB 5 January 2012)

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