Saturday, July 2, 2016

F. William Engdahl — Russia’s Achilles Heel – Reflections from St. Petersburg

The first thing that is important to understand is that in Russia's governmental structure there are essentially two governments. The prime minister, currency Dimitry Medvedev, is responsible for domestic policy including economic policy, and the president, now Vladimir Putin, is responsible for foreign and military policy. The Central Bank of Russia is politically independent and responsible for monetary policy.

Secondly, it is important to grab that domestic affairs under Prime Minister Medvedev is deeply beholden to the ideology and economics of Western economic liberalism, introduced at the time the USSR collapsed. This cohort adheres to the the Western paradigm.

 Russia's Achilles heel is the economic liberalism inherited from the Yeltsin years and Harvard boyz by the proteges of Yegor Gaidar, the former Acting Prime Minister that introduced shock therapy. Current prime minister Dimitry Medvedev and central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina are economic liberals who follow the Washington Consensus that is based on neoliberalism as economic liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, along with low taxes and perks for "job creators." The prescription for economic policy is "expansionary fiscal austerity" in order to increase business confidence. The business of the central bank is solely to keep inflation low and the exchange rate stable.
What I experienced in my discussions at the conference–this year with record attendance of more than 12,000 business people and others from around the world–was a sense that there coexist two Russian governments, each the polar opposite of the other. Every key economic and finance post is firmly occupied at present by monetarist free-market liberal economists who might be called “Gaidar’s Kindergarten.” Yegor Gaidar was the architect, along with Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs, a Soros-backed economist, of the radical “shock therapy” that was responsible for the economic hardships that plagued the country in the 1990s resulting in mass poverty and hyperinflation.
Today’s Gaidar Kindergarten includes former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, another Euromoney favorite in 2010 as international Finance Minister of the Year. It includes Economics Minister, Alexey Ulyukaev. It also includes Medvedev’s Deputy Prime Minister, Arkady Dvorkovic.
Dvorkovic, a graduate of Duke University in North Carolina, is a protégé, directly serving during his earlier years under Yegor Gaidar. In 2010 under then Russian President Medvedev, Dvorkovic proposed a lunatic scheme to make Moscow into a world financial center by bringing in Goldman Sachs and the major Wall Street banks to set it all up. We might call it inviting the fox into the hen house. Dvorkovic’s economic credo is “Less state!” He was the chief lobbyist in Russia’s WTO accession campaign, and tried to ram through rapid privatization of the assets that remain state-owned.
This is the core group around Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today who are strangling any genuine Russian economic recovery. They follow the western playbook written in Washington by the International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury. Whether they do this at this stage out of honest conviction that that is best for their nation or out of a deep psychological hatred for their country, I’m not in a position to say. The effects of their policies, as I learned in my many discussions this month in St Petersburg are devastating. In effect, they are self-imposing economic sanctions on Russia far worse than any from the USA or EU. If Putin’s United Russia party loses the elections on 18 September, it will be due not to his foreign policy initiatives for which he still enjoys 80+% popularity polls. It will be because Russia has not cleaned the Augean Stables of the Gaidar Kindergarten.
From various discussions I learned to my shock that the official policy of Medvedev’s economic team and of the Central Bank today is to follow the standard IMF “Washington Consensus” budget austerity policies.…
I had the honor of appearing on a major panel together with several members and founders of this group. It included a co-founder of the Stolypin Club, Boris Titov, a Russian businessman and open ideological foe of Kudrin, who is chairman of the All-Russian “Business Russia” organization. He insists on the need to increase domestic production of goods, stimulate demand, attracting investment, tax cuts and the cuts to the refinancing rate of the Central Bank. Titov is a central figure today in Russia’s recent China initiatives. He served as chairman of the Russian part of the Russian-Chinese Business Council, and member of the Presidium of the National Council on Corporate Governance.
My panel also included Stolypin Club leading members Sergei Glazyev, Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation, and Andrey Klepach, Deputy Chairman of the VEB Bank for Development. Klepach, a co-founder of the Stolypin Club, was formerly Deputy Economics Minister of Russia, and director of the macroeconomic forecasting department of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. My impression was that these are serious, dedicated people who understand that the heart of true national economic policy is human capital and human well-being not inflation or other econometric data.…
What was clear from my St Petersburg talks this time is that events are approaching a decisive “do or die” turn in which either economic policy is formally put into the hands of competent national economy circles such as those of Boris Titov, Andrey Klepach and Sergey Glazyev, or she will succumb to the insidious poison of Washington Consensus and liberal free market nonsense. After my recent private talks I am optimistic regarding prospects for a positive change.
Russia’s Achilles Heel – Reflections from St. Petersburg
F. William Engdahl

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