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The Russian word for a great power is derzhava. But with its harsh consonants, it means more than that. It is the word for a superstate. It implies a force people cannot control and it is the expression Russians use when they talk of the nature of their country. 

What it means to live in a derzhava is visible when the Omon riot police arrive in the square in central Moscow where the statue of the poet Mayakovsky stands. Their blue and white camouflage is designed for the tundra. But on the streets of Moscow, their uniforms mean brazen authority. They offload hastily from military trucks and stand in packs around the statue. Further detachments in the dark green uniforms of the military police secure the edges of the square. Traffic is disrupted, then stopped. Security squadrons position themselves with dozens of leashed and muzzled Alsatians at the ready. The surrealism of watching a shock force secure an empty square isn't funny to passers-by. Pale-blue-shirted policemen have spread out around the area and are waiting at all intersecting Metro stations. Dmitry, the cigarette vendor, is on edge. "This happens all the time. The opposition says they'll have a protest. A few guys turn up and they all get arrested in minutes and then all the security men turn up and stage their own impromptu parade." This is the order Vladimir Putin has brought back to Russia. 

On the Metro, policemen casually stand on the platforms that might transport any would-be rebels to encircle the statue of Mayakovsky. Passengers sullenly avert their eyes from the law. The human load of each carriage is a little piece of a fractured society. A one-eyed alcoholic is slouched next to a young man playing with an iPod Touch. Women wearing expensive clothing ignore the heavily wrinkled "father" carting around a small girl. There is a cardboard sign round her neck: "I need money to eat." In Moscow, at least 23 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. This is in the city with the most billionaires in the world. The government claims the poverty rate is falling. But even Sergei Mironov, the Speaker of the parliamentary upper house, the Federation Council, estimates that more than one third of all Russians are now living in poverty. The inequities of the Tsars have returned.

Roughly one third of advertising hoardings stand emptied by the economic crisis savaging Russia. GDP slumped by 10.3 per cent in the last quarter. But this is not even the primary recession worrying the Kremlin. One in five of posters are government exhortations. "Love for the motherland begins in the family," reads one. "A family is the highest form of love for one's country," shouts another. The Kremlin wants its children to maintain Russia as a derzhava.

Nikolai Petrov was once an adviser to the Russian government. His critical voice has now found a home at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, a Western-funded think-tank on the Tverskaia Boulevard. Here, a lick of new paint makes the Tsarist edifices look uglier than they were in decay. Decked in furs and clutching Prada handbags, the wives of the wealthy peruse the boulevard's boutiques for luxuries. Petrov explains, "Vladimir Putin and his allies believed their own propaganda. But in fact most of the growth of the past few years has simply been recovery growth. The economy is dependent on oil and natural gas. The ‘Putin Plan' is economic new-Stalinism, focusing massive state investments on vast projects. It has failed. The labour force is collapsing by a million a year. The state has only enough money to continue like this for 12-20 more months without reforms." 

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Bill Corr
October 6th, 2009
10:10 AM
The dismemberment of the Soviet Empire caused tragic suffering ... even the remaining Pontic Greeks were involved as victimes

September 29th, 2009
3:09 PM
The "harsh consonant" "D"? Idiotic.

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