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Russia: thirty years after the disappearance of the USSR

N° 21 février 2022 Thirty years ago, the USSR disappeared as a subject of international law.

Its dismantling led to the formation of fifteen independent states, of which Russia, the most important, retained the international attributes of the USSR and in particular its permanent seat on the Security Council as well as its nuclear means. At the time, this dismantling of the USSR was hailed by the Western powers as a new era opening the door to a policy of cooperation and peace with, among other things, the end of the military Warsaw Pact, although not similarly matched with the dissolution of NATO but provided with a vague promise that the latter would not extend to the new republics of the former USSR. We know what happened to this promise since today the Baltic Republics and Poland are full members. It is true that the Russian leaders of the time around Boris N. Yeltsin had nothing to refuse Westerners as they were indebted to them for their rise to power at the head of a weakened country. The disappearance of the USSR and of the socialist countries of Europe opened the way to a new stage of development of capitalism throughout the world and to a sharpening of international competition, reinforcing the aggressiveness of the imperialist powers aiming to take over resources, dominate lines of communication and control the labor force. Those were the days of American advisers, of the liquidation of public property for the benefit of an emerging oligarchy, of the division of Russia into more or less autonomous territories and of an unprecedented economic and social crisis.
There was resistance to this liquidation process. It was repressed in blood with the support of the USA and Western countries which applauded this bloody repression. Thus, on October 4, 1993, Boris Yeltsin ordered the army to storm the White House of Russia, at the time the seat of the Russian Parliament which was preparing to impeach him. According to official statistics nearly 200 people were killed and more than 400 injured. Yeltsin's attack on Parliament very clearly belied claims that the collapse of the USSR meant the installation of democracy, the ongoing capitalist restoration involving liquidating the social and democratic gains of the USSR.
This period of crisis was accompanied by restrictions on civil liberties with the banning of the Communist Party which was reconstituted in the form of Communist Party of the Russian Federation in 1993 and which is today the first political opposition party. It officially won 20% of the votes in the 2021 legislative elections against 42% for Putin's United Russia party; observers believe that the most likely figures are 30 and 32% respectively!
In this period of crisis, what was at stake was the very existence of Russia as a state, as the centrifugal forces fed by the power of the oligarchies were strong and the population's adherence to the new course of things weak. From December 31, 1999, following the resignation of Boris Yeltsin (rather than a resignation one can speak of a palace coup), Vladimir V. Putin assumed the functions of acting President of the Russian Federation. He became full president in May 2000 after winning the presidential election in the first round. As soon as he came to power, Putin asserted that the fate of Russia could not be its liquidation as a state. He affirms that far from the destructive anarchy and submission to Western interests of the Yeltsin era, now is: “the dictatorship of law”. Its popularity is based on tangible realities for the population, since salaries and pensions are finally starting to be paid again, a minimum of order in public affairs is emerging and Russia's interests on the international stage is reasserted. However, V. Putin reinforces the development of capitalism in Russia by adding state control where the power interests require it. This is particularly so in the military and energy field. During the first part of his mandates a high price of gas and oil, allowed a certain redistribution which relatively satisfied the population but the fall in prices has led to economic difficulties which generate a major social crisis and result in a decline in his popularity and that of the United Russia Party. Pension reform, the privatization of land required by the development of capitalism in Russia, the partial or total privatization of access to healthcare, the rise of social inequalities... are factors that negatively modify popular support for the government’s politics. This phenomenon is partly reflected in the electoral results and especially in record abstention rates of around 50%; it is also fully manifested in the distrust of vaccination, less than 50% of the population is vaccinated, although Sputnik V is a national vaccine. The USA and the imperialist alliances – the European Union and their military instrument NATO, are not mistaken and faced with the failure of weakening, dividing and subjugating Russia they accentuate economic pressure through sanctions, and military pressure through the extension of NATO's domain to the very borders of Russia. This is the whole point of the crisis around Belarus and Ukraine. This is what V. Putin firmly recalled during his press conference on December 23, largely devoted to issues of national security and the organization of interstate relations at European level.
Russia therefore faces significant existential challenges. Its immense territory, its abundant resources are greatly coveted in a world where capitalist competition is exacerbated for access to resources and means of communication. While Russia has important assets, an immense Euro-Asian territory, it also has weaknesses inherent in its production of wealth essentially based on the export of raw materials and a weak demography. What social and political forces will be capable of embodying the major interests of its population in the decades to come? This question is still largely open.