A brief review of recent political history of Russia (according to me)

So in the early 90s something happened in Russia - the USSR fell and the country rejected the ideal of communism. Pretty much "organically" - there was never any allegation that this was somehow prompted by or orchestrated by anyone outside of Russia. The people of Russia have had enough and Gorbachev cracked the door open through which Yeltsin stepped to be the first democratically elected President of Russia. He was a popular President elected with outright majority of 58% of votes, 4 times that of the next candidate.
During Yeltsin years there were 3 loci of power - the government, business broadly speaking which went on to become the "oligarchs" and organized crime, broadly speaking. It was the Wild East in which state assets were grabbed at throwaway prices by businessmen and criminals fought openly in the streets for control of parts of territory or segment of criminal activity. It was at times hard to tell where one of those stopped and others began, the 3 groupings intermingled and overlapped in largely chaotic and dynamic fashion. Standard of living improved only moderately but hopes were very high.
When Putin was picked by Yeltsin to succeed him, the lawlessness of the Yeltsin era was replaced not necessarily with laws but with a rule. Russia in a sense reverted to its tradition of a country being ruled by rulers rather than governed by laws.
Many in Russia appreciated this very much because the chaos, lawlessness and instant enrichment of the few were grating to the masses. Putin surrounded himself by loyalists and members of the intelligence and security services (the "siloviki" that some journalists may try to dazzle you with). He became a very popular President because of it and also because of a significant increase in prosperity that coincided with this.
Instead of 3 centers of power, there was only one. The oligarchs were sat down by Putin and told they will do as he says or else and the one that did not get the message, Khodorkovsky, was dispatched to jail promptly for a very long time. Similarly, organized crime under Putin could operate only in limited ways and for many of the bosses of the previous era, places outside of Russia became much more interesting than the land of Putin.
In the beginning, Putin was not about money - he had no understanding of it or appreciation for it. But "all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". So he became interested in money as power in the world and small group of people around him became multi-billionaires in the space of a less than a decade. And none of them invented Facebook or produced millions of units of anything.
The focus for Putin became returning Russia to greatness which to a large extent for him is synonymous with being feared as much as respected or admired. In fact, I would say "admired" or "liked" really never was what he was shooting for. He wanted Russia to "matter" and if that meant more military force then that would be the priority and if that meant hosting the most expensive Winter Olympics ever, then that was going to be it too.
In order for Putin to be able to sell this story to the Russian population at large, he has to demonstrate that traditional Western democracies are not all that great. Their politicians all lie, they let in immigrants who rape women and conduct terrorist attacks and do you really want that to happen to Russia?
That is his agenda and in the pursuit of this agenda he will use every means available, including propaganda and disinformation. The goal is not to create an alliance with a future American or French president, the goal is to discredit the concept of western democracy as such. He simply needs to "make trouble" because if there is trouble in the West, Russians are so much better off because there is no such trouble in Russia. OK, so pensioners are not getting paid any inflation adjustments but do you really want to be like those other countries in which nobody is really in charge?
This context is crucial in order to understand what Russian government might or might not have done and with what motive. Without it, one is faced with what currently goes on in mainstream media which is as if we are back in the time of Rocky movies. Russia is neither to be admired nor feared nor vilified. It has limited objectives and limited powers and boundless willingness to use them. They will invade another country and they will fly their military jets in support of a despot in Syria "just because". They will hack anything they can just because they can. And will use anything so obtained to sow maximum confusion. Russia will be proud of its hackers and Putin even joked about the superiority of its prostitutes. And it has worked well beyond their imagination so far which is why Lavrov and Putin seem bemused when asked questions about whether they did it. It is funny to them how little they need to do in order for the fire to just keep on burning.
And hapless reporters who struggle to read up on recent Russian history just walk right into it and do their work for them. They need to move on, there was no collusion because that would entail the level of planning and forethought that simply is not on Russia's agenda. It serves them no good purpose to have President Trump instead of President Clinton and they know that well. Which is why they were not working to make that happen in any but the most general way - spreading doubt and confusion and trying to show Democrats and Republicans are equally hypocritical and corrupt.


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