In November of 2013, Viktor Yanukovich, the then President of the Ukraine, announced the abandonment of a trade agreement with the EU, and that he wanted to seek closer ties with the ex KGB, AK-47 wielding, chest revealing Vladimir Putin. This caused considerable outrage in the Ukraine, especially Kiev, as the western parts of the country are strongly pro-EU and are abhorrent of the Russian regime, a country devastated by the Stalinist purges of the 1930’s. Ukraine was liberated only 23 years ago when the Soviet Union broke up. On December the 1st, 300,000 people gathered in Independence Square in Kiev to protest, and the City Hall was seized. By January the 16th anti-protest laws were introduced which were immediately described as ‘draconian’ as they took away the human right to protest in a similar manner to Tony Blair’s anti-terror laws took away the right to dance around naked in front of your webcam without GCHQ taking photos of you. It was then that people started to die…
On January 22nd Ukrainian police fired upon the crowd with live ammunition. Two died and another followed when he clashed with riot police. Dmytrov Bulatov, an opposition activist was found outside of the city having been imprisoned and tortured for eight days by pro-Russian groups. On the 16th of February it seemed like a ceasefire between the Government and its people was in sight when protesters returned control of city hall in exchange for the release of 234 imprisoned activists. Two days later clashes re-erupted after changes to constitutional reform were stalled. 18 people died and over a hundred were injured. Another two days later and within 48 hours, 88 people had been killed by Government snipers shooting into the crowds.
President Yanukovich then fled the capital after a vote in Parliament determined his removal and the release of his previous political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. With the now wavering ties he had with the country now disappearing, Putin started to play. On the 27th armed men seized governmental buildings in Crimea, the Crimean parliament determined May 25th as the date of referendum and the fleeing pro-Russian ex-president Yanukovich was granted refuge in Russia. Simferopol international airport, in Crimea, was then seized along with Sevastopol naval base by further armed men in unmarked combat fatigues, Russia denied that they were theirs. By the 1st of March the Russian Upper House had approved the use of military force in not only Crimea, but in the whole of the sovereign state of Ukraine.
“There can be one assessment of what happened in Kiev and Ukraine as a whole. This was an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power.” These were words spoken by Putin himself which, do not imply he is having any thoughts of stopping at taking just Crimea, but Ukraine as a whole, if not more.
Within the next week, convoys of hundreds of Russian soldiers marched towards the regional capital of Crimea. The Russian Black Sea Fleet ordered the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol to surrender to them, or face a military assault. Putin then stated that “The legitimate president, purely legally, is undoubtedly Yanukovich.”, surprising as that was also Putin’s favourite candidate, and that “We reserve the right to use all available means. And we believe that this is fully legitimate.” when speaking on the issue of ‘protecting’ the people of eastern Ukraine.
The notorious referendum was then held in Crimea, by order of Putin, which contravened many principles of what a referendum actually is. The vote received 96.77% of the vote, apparently, making it one of the most successful referendums ever. There have been some questions over the integrity of this unquestionably truthful referendum, that included the fact that hundreds of Ukrainians, left for security reasons or were kicked out and that the indigenous Tatars suffered widespread intimidation. Furthermore a Russian journalist living in Crimea told them that she was Russian and only lived in Crimea for a very short time, was positively encouraged to vote, even though this was not legal.
After the vote, Russia recognised Crimea as a sovereign state and no longer part of Ukraine.
The crisis, although with less coverage in the news, is not over. Many towns and cities along Ukraine’s eastern border have been seized, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Slavyansk as well as further naval and military bases have been taken by pro-Russian activists who have asked Putin to send military force. The conflict is showing little sign of abating and with Putin’s already expressed views of his contempt for the fall of the Soviet Union, it is unlikely it will do any time soon. We no longer know whether it is just Ukraine on the menu, or whether he would like to try a taste of Finland or Estonia, who have both reported fear in the knowledge that Russia has had extensive military exercises along their borders. And being the superpower that they are, not even America has the balls to come out and tell them where to go. Maybe the Cold War was not over, maybe it was just waiting.
Contributed by Daniel Gibbs
However, the role of Rasputin in the fall of the Romanov dynasty was less significant than other factors, namely the impact of the First World War. There is evidence to substantiate the claim that Rasputin was merely a symbol of Russian despotism and not a crucial character in its downfall or construction, for his murder resulted in little change in the governing of Russia, ‘nothing was changed with Rasputin’s removal; nothing improved either in affairs of the State or in the Tsar’s situation’.
Instead, staggering losses on the battlefield played a definite role in the revolution. Rampant discontent lowered morale which was further undermined by series of military defeats like the Battle of the Massurian Lakes in 1915 and the failure of the Brusilov Offensive in 1916. This crisis in morale, as argued by Allan Wildman, ‘was rooted fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be achieved.’
However, the war devastated not only soldiers and, by the end of 1915, it was clear that the economy was collapsing under the heightened strain of wartime demand. The root of such issues was the combined destructive nature of food shortages and inflation. The most affected region was the capital, St. Petersburg, a result of the distance from supplies and poor transportation networks. The initial outcome of this was growing criticism of governmental administration not war-weariness and disillusionment. However, increasing heavy losses strengthened revolutionary notions. A report by the St. Petersburg branch of the security police, the Okhrana, in October 1916, warned bluntly of ‘the possibility in the near future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the burdens of daily existence.’ Nonetheless, little response was taken.
However, the Tsar was a symbol of morality in their lives while all catastrophes originated from meddling bureaucrats, functionaries and nobles. But, from the commencement of the First World War, the Tsar took active participation in government, tactics and administration. Therefore, he was personally blamed for many later crises and royalist support crumbled. In the summer of 1915, the Tsar became the new Commander-in-Chief of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary. The result was disastrous: firstly, it associated the monarchy with the unpopular war; secondly, Tsar Nicholas II was an incompetent leader, vexing his commanders with interference and thirdly, while at the front, he was unable to govern. This left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, and Rasputin, both ostracised and detested by the Russian people.
As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Tsar Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that, inexorably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was adopted. This was ignored. While the Tsar was at the front, the Tsarina was left in charge of governing. She proved to be an ineffective ruler in a time of war, announcing a succession of Prime Ministers and angering the Duma. ‘From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk’ (1918) by Ariadna Tyrkova, a Constitutional Democratic Party member, states that rumours stated ‘Germans were influencing Alexandra Feodorovna through the medium of Rasputin and Stürmer.’ It, also, describes the Tsarina as ‘haughty and unapproachable’ and a ruler who ‘lacked popularity’. Although such rumours may not have been true, it would have inevitably damaged the reputation of both the Tsar and Tsarina.
Moreover, the Tsarina’s trust on Rasputin on all matters, state or personal, was ruinous. Rasputin was hated by the people for his influence: ‘Russia and History’s Turning Point’ (1965) by Alexander Kerensky, describes ‘the Tsarina’s blind faith in Rasputin led her to seek his counsel not only in personal matters but also on questions of state policy.’ Such actions of the Tsarina would have alienated the majority of Russia, even loyal subjects. In addition, unfulfilled aspirations of democracy from the 1905 Revolution fuelled anti-imperialist revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts. The Tsar sought to quieten such political surges and mitigate social unrest though patriotic war against a common adversary of the Triple Entente, supporting its ally Serbia. Instead of restoring Russia’s political and military standing, the First World War undermined both the monarchy and society to the brink of ruin.
However, all these causes are interrelated: without the influence of diplomatic pressure, Russia would have not entered the First World War which itself worsened the internal stability of the state. Moreover, without poor social conditions, due to the collapsing economy and rapid urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution, revolutionary ideas would not have gained traction or without the obstinacy of the Tsar, the revolution would not have occurred. Different historians apply different emphases to each cause: liberal writers would prioritise the turmoil of the war while materialist histories would highlight on the irrevocability of change. However, it can be said with some certainty, that the character of Rasputin did not play a crucial part in the downfall of the Tsarist regime in 1917.
Contributed by Ali Qureshi
State capitalism refers broadly to an economic system based on capitalism where large corporations are either wholly or partly owned by the government. The model is not a new phenomenon- for the most part of the 20th century Western economies heavily employed state intervention, such as in Europe, which gave rise to the creation of welfare states. Since the 1970’s however, Western economies have become a lot more liberal- leaders such as Thatcher and Reagan introduced economic policies such as deregulation and privatisation which freed up the market. However, many view the 2007-2008 financial crisis, that engulfed most of the developed world, as the end of the reign of this ‘free-market triumphalism’.
Whilst turbulence amongst liberal economies continues, the GDP growth rates of the state capitalists Brazil, China and Russia have remained stable. A feature that makes this new form of state capitalism stand out is the management of state owned companies. Over the past 20 years, the state capitalist governments have pruned their portfolio of enterprises, but have held back a few businesses in which they wish to heavily invest, in order for them to become national champions on a global scale. The state capitalist governments believe that these SOE’s (state owned enterprises) combine the best features of the state and the market. For example, the benefits of long term planning of the allocation of resources and an efficient relationship with the government are combined with the efficiencies of the market: being listed on the stock exchange and having professionally trained managers in charge. This is opposed to the pre-WW2 state capitalist model where companies were wholly nationalised and were run by inexperienced government bureaucrats.
Another advantage of this model is the fact that revenue is often reinvested into national infrastructure. In Western states however, private companies may not be incentivized to invest in infrastructure unless given government support. Whilst the UK is struggling to find funds for the new high speed railway HS2 to desperately enhance its dilapidating rail network, China has already built 8,123 miles worth of high-speed railway, which according to the BBC, is more than the rest of the world’s high speed rail track combined. This is achievable through the large revenues that the biggest SOE’s turnover.
One may think that these state run companies may suffer from monopolistic laziness, however these companies are far more dynamic than the old style ‘socialist mega-firms’. SOE’s tend to have both an outward vision to expand globally, as well as an inward, domestic vision. As opposed to previous forms of SOE’s which sought to protect themselves from the threat of globalisation, current SOE’s rather embrace globalisation in order to force themselves to continually innovate. Additionally, state capitalist countries have the benefits of being able to bunch their SOE’s horizontally in order to exploit each other’s resources and contacts as they are all ultimately owned by the same institution- the government.
On the other hand, state capitalism is a breeding ground for corruption and cronyism (partially to long-standing friends) which threatens its chances of success. The major countries that employ state capitalism are politically problematic- Russia is an astounding 143rd on the world’s corruption index, whilst China and Brazil are 75th and 73rd respectively. With power in so few hands, it is important that those who are in power are reliable politicians- this certainly cannot be said for Russia.
In addition, there is the question of fairness when it comes to state capitalism. It is a hard feat for any private company to become richer than the state as they will lack vast governmental support and subsidies from which SOE’s greatly benefit. This is likely to stifle lower level entrepreneurship. Xiaonian Xu, an economics professor at the China Europe International Business School comments that “nobody can get in”, when referring to the nature of the state dominated Chinese market. He also expressed further doubts about the economic model, explaining that returns of capital investment on SOE’s would be significantly lower if it weren’t for government subsidies- this suggests there are great inefficiencies within these enterprises. Moreover, due to the oligopolistic nature of the state capitalist market, there is a tendency for SOE’s to overcharge.
There is also the question of foreign investment. Foreign investors may fear that as the majority shareholders of the SOE’s are the government, SOE’s will try and fulfil social policies of the government rather than the business goals of the shareholders. Even more worryingly, there is the fear that government bureaucrats may instantly change policies in the business that could adversely affect them. There is certainly less predictability for third parties in this system as the companies are markedly less transparent than Western firms.
Western economists seem very sceptical about the success of state capitalism- economic historian Niall Ferguson says that: “State capitalism is not China’s solution to the problem; it is China’s problem. The future of the global balance between the West and the rest will depend on whether China solves that problem…” So far, state capitalist methods have been a success story for Brazil, China, Russia and the Arab world. This is evidently shown by four of the biggest global companies being state owned. Regarding long term economic development, there is no real evidence to suggest that this success won’t be sustainable. However, this is dependent on the fact that the governments maintain the right formula, constantly evolve to the global market and don’t become too overbearing upon their respective SOE’s.
Contributed by Kapil Vijh