Russia’s Dead End

30 Jul 18
Posted by: Kevin Rowlands

by Andrei Kovalev

Russia’s Dead End is not an easy book, but then Russia is not an easy country to understand or deal with. We may sit here in the relative comfort of the West and look on in utter incomprehension at the dismal politics, economics and social repression at the heart of Moscow’s empire. We may choose to believe that things there got better after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or that the Russian’s themselves had a real chance to improve their lot in the 1990s but blew it. We may even think that we, the triumphant victors of the Cold War, are in in some ways responsible for not properly guiding Russia out of its dead end and into the international community. Perhaps it is all true. Or perhaps there are other reasons woven into the fabric of its society. It could be the “need” for strong leadership; the centuries-old lack of engagement with anything resembling democracy as we see it; the size and remoteness of the country from the centres of global politics.
The author, Andrei A Kovalev, is a Russian exile who used to work in the Soviet and then the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serving Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. His father was a Party man in the diplomatic service too, and so Kovalev almost certainly had a privileged route into the Kremlin and the world of autocratic power. As the subtitle suggests, he is telling his tale from the inside and, as an insider, he points his finger for its ills at what he calls Russia’s “slave psychology.” Of course, the slave psychology runs deep; from the days of the csars and serfdom, through the Bolshevik revolution and the decades of communist rule, all the while being encircled by outsiders and, from time to time, invaded. The slave in this context wants a master to keep him safe.
But what are the ills that Kovalev talks about? Well, this this passage lets the reader know where he stands. “Russia is sick. Its illness is complex and psychosomatic in character. This presents itself, among other ways, as manic depressive psychosis accompanied by acute megalomania, persecution complex, and kleptomania, all compounded by dystrophy…” There is no misreading Kovalev’s position on his country of origin. Nor is there much chance of misreading his clear disdain for Putin. Kovalev lives in Belgium for a reason.
This is not a coffee table book. It is likely only to appeal to those with a profound interest in the running of the Russian state and who are happy to hear from an author with one particular perspective on it. It doesn’t give balance, but then not every book or documentary should. Some things are just, well, simply out of balance anyway and Russia is probably one of them.
We have not seen the last of Russia, or even the last of Putin, and those of us interested in global affairs would do well to try to understand what makes Russia tick and to keep abreast of developments. This is not the first book that a reader should turn to in order to learn about authoritarian Russia and its peoples (I found Martin Sixsmith’s Russia: A 1000 Year Chronicle of the Wild East an excellent introduction, and there are many more works looking at the contemporary situation), but it could be a useful addition to the bookshelf for a specialist.

Kevin Rowlands
Captain, RN