Useful Notes: The New Russia
Everything the Soviets ever told us about Communism was a lie. Unfortunately, everything they told us about capitalism was true.Speech is a lot freer than it was, and private business not only exists, but thrives. Competition between private companies can be intense and cutthroat. Literally cutthroat. Which is why private security is one of the most thriving industries. Putin and Medvedev are seemingly popular, but often quite shady. They casually exchange presidency and prime-ministering. While the Tricolours With Rusting Rockets retain the red star on their aircraft, the proposed new formal uniform is somewhat Tsarist looking, the old Slavic-colours flag is back and Red October is replaced with a somewhat controversial "National Unity Day" which takes place three days earlier and is a popular time for various far-right rallies. Russia has a lot of problems to deal with. But you wouldn't know it from the way the fall of the USSR is usually portrayed. If you cut the story short somewhere around late 1991, it looks like the whole Story Arc is over, the Cold War has ended peacefully much to everyone's surprise, and the future looks bright for all involved. Flash forward two years and the economy has been crippled by corrupt privatizations, unemployment and poverty are running rampant, and the new, "democratic", constantly-intoxicated President deals with an unruly Parliament by sending in the tanks. Later, it gets worse. One particular subtrope associated with The New Russia is the "Russian Nineties", which is the Theme Park Version of the Yeltsinist Russian Federation. Everyone except the gangsters and the oligarchs is starving poor, crime is rampant, the rubles have Ridiculous Exchange Rates, and the whole place is Grim Dark. Basically, the Great Depression-era USA meets Ruritania. When speculative fiction extrapolated from this trend, it usually added Cyberpunk into the mix to create an Up to Eleven picture of a failed state, where masses do starve in droves, and the whole place is overtly run as a confederacy of mob families. The Nineties ended with Putin coming to power and oil money coming to town, but they surely can make a comeback because of the worldwide financial crisis, which is what everyone was expecting in 2009-early 2010. The economy (the Russian one at least) has since recovered, but lots of previous problems persist regardless. Russia now has a problem with The Mafiya, general corruption and a lack of money, although these three are being somewhat dealt with. Following the general decay of... everything during the nineties, the government has been hard-pressed to select which sectors were in the most urgent need of restructuring/financing, permitted by the improving conditions. The military industry, hydrocarbons extraction, and other "marketable" goods came first, and this along with sudden exposure of the economy to the laws of demand left the notoriously bloated and inefficient heavy industries inherited from the USSR to fend for themselves. These either adapted to the situation by scraping up investments and selling abroad, or were merged into large state-owned conglomerates. But annual budgets are not limitless and other sectors were also set aside, resulting in crumbling public infrastructure (education was mostly unaffected, thankfully), under-employment, and the problems of the USSR's frankly shoddy environmental record. Chechnya and terrorism are a rather a big issue as well. The far right is another large problem, as fascist gangs attack anyone who doesn't look right on the street. Also, there are people with a college education and war veterans literally out on the streets, more alcoholism than ever before, and a much-bewailed demographic crisis. Finally, Russians, unused to capitalism after 75 years of being Commie Land, manage to get suckered into all manner of scams; one particularly notorious Ponzi Scheme, MMM, ended up taking in anywhere between 5 and 40 million Russians for the whopping sum of ten billion dollars. Not rubles—hard, American dollars (and now - 2011 - it is back!). All of this contributes to it being a Crapsack World and accounts for why Russians writing about this tend to Accentuate the Negative and adhere to the far Cynical end of Idealism vs. Cynicism. It is also worth noting, that because of a lack of conscript discipline, the compulsory military service is a boogeyman for the Russian youth, because nowadays soldiers ruthlessly bully each other, there are frequent murders or suicides among soldiers (possibly over 300 total by now).note Because of these reasons, most of the youth try to get higher education - Russia has the second largest amount of universities in the world - but low funding and the legacy of Soviet preferences (if it is militarily relevant, it's a priority) means that the education system is good at producing engineers and technical specialists, but fundamental researchers in all but a few prioritized disciplines have to join foreign faculties or organize themselves : only the country's main university is (low) in the world top 100.note Right now Moscow is a big and modern city. People there tend to have fair incomes but suffer from bad ecology, ethnic violence and many other problems; on the other hand, economical inequality is more striking in Moscow than anywhere else, since it has a really filthy rich upper class, a tenuous middle class and lots of lower-class people. Research activities and newly profitable commercial developments such as electronics are also quite centralized there and, to a lower extent, in regional capitals. Since the policies of equal development of the USSR, which were over-focused on heavy industries, died with it, rural parts of Russia are very very poor compared to the capital city. The most notable exceptions are St.Petersburg which literally is a second capital, and quickly developing, often oil rich Siberian regions. In the countryside of southern (Central Asian) and western (European) Russia, there is no middle class to speak of and unemployment is a serious issue, corruption is overwhelming, oligarchy is on its march and right now there is more violence and crime than there was during infamous "Russian Nineties". In addition, the army is somewhat of a laughing stock due to the constant bickering between design companies, production facilities, and the generals for who gets funding priority this year. No wonder the nostalgic mood is very popular. Some political pundits like to compare the modern Russia to the last years of Tsarist Russia. Like Tsarist (Imperial) Russia, modern Russia has an economy dependant on selling raw natural resources. Like in Imperial Russia, most industries are owned by foreign Mega Corps or are government monopolies, the rest are under the control of the current president's pet oligarchs. Putin, like Alexander III, reversed many liberal reforms of the previous reign, and Medvedev even looks like Nicholas II. Like in Imperial Russia, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing alarmingly fast. The pogroms (race riots) are back in full swing, although nowadays they target Caucasians (people from Caucasus, not generic whites) and Central Asians rather then Jews. The army is pretty much at the same redshirt status, the police is the same authoritarian riot-stamping force of mooks, the parliament is the same rubber-stamp body and is even named the same (State Duma) as the Tsarist parliament, the radical opposition is slowly but stably growing. And, like Imperial Russia, it is confronted with a Morton's Fork of external politics: ally itself with an old superpower that rules the seas and which was the enemy number one for a long time, or a new, rapidly developing land-based industrial powerhouse? What will be next? Second Imperialistic War? Second Civil War? There are other commentators meanwhile who tend to think that Russia with its brand new "sovereign democracy" is, despite it all, in a position to remain a global power - and wildcard - for the immediate future. They argue that the current state of affairs under Putin is a response to what some Russians claim as the failure of Western liberal reforms in The Nineties. And if its recent activities in the Middle East are any indication, especially Syria, it still seems premature to write the country off just yet. The events of the Crimean crisis of 2014 also lend credibility to the theory that the federal regime is asserting its independence from the West and strengthening its militarist democracy. However, the Putinist government still remains crypto-Tsarist/Soviet, strengthening religious fervor and encouraging every reactionary idea as well as reviving Soviet era policies. And some of the ideologues rising up to power in the Russian-backed Eastern Ukraine, unfettered by the international norms, openly claim succession to the White Guard ideologies of the Russian Civil War, or the Red Army of WWII fighting neo-Nazis that allegedly run the new Ukrainian government. Even their breakaway state in eastern Ukraine is called Novorossiya which literally translates to New Russia - an old Imperial term for the region revived by the rebels. Is it really crypto-Tsarist, or crypto-Soviet - since, you know, you cannot be both at a time? It is a complicated question. The government heavily favors the neo-Tsarist ideas, but among the Russian people itself there is a large percentage of Sovietophile recusants (not really Communists or Marxists, they do not understand these paradigms fully, but want the just good old times to be back). This leads to another Morton's fork: pandering to those recusants and re-introducing Soviet policies is a boon in terms of electoral ratings - but this will alienate the ruling elites who dream of becoming bona fide feudal overlords, not to mention the oligarchs, and will, most likely, result in a coup. Pandering to the elites and re-introducing Imperial age policies, on the other hand, will alienate the grass-roots Sovietophiles and will result in protests, which will be much more vehement than the middle-class revolts of 2011. The only thing these camps can agree upon is that liberal pro-Westernists should be given the boot and Russia should be de-Americanized, and this is exactly what's happening: slowly, maneuvering to and fro to this side and the other one and trying to keep the Civil War from reigniting.
The New Russia in fictionAnime and Manga
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, modern Russia is described as fallen a bit on hard times after the fall of the USSR. It doesn't stop him from wanting to make the world one with him at all.
- Blood+ has scenes set in contemporary Vladivostok.
- Luna Park by Kevin Baker does a good job showing it in the main character's flashbacks.
- The Winter Men is set in this era.
- GoldenEye: most notable for a scene in a park full of removed Soviet statues in this regard and partly shot in St. Petersburg for second unit stuff. Until the bribes got too high.
- Alexei Balabanov's gritty crime films are pretty much an examination of this.
- Brother, his most famous movie is a parly crime drama, partly action movie about gun-toting Anti-Hero living and fighting in crime-ridden City Noir of Saint-Petersburg.
- The sequel, Brother 2 was much better recieved publically AND much worse critically.
- Voina(War) is a movie about Chechen War.
- Dead Man's Bluff, a very gory splatter-comedy about incredibly dumb Those Two Bad Guys hunting a MacGuffin for their mob boss(played by no one other than Nikita Mikhalkov), killing loads of people in process, often for very dumb reasons.
- The Stoker, a nihilistic drana about Shell-Shocked Veteran of Afghan War, trying to survive the Russian Nineties, while maintaining sense of good and evil.
- Me Too is a re-telling of Tarkovsky's Stalker... in The New Russia!
- The low-budget Dystopian sci-fi film The Syndicate, directed by Tibor Takács and starring Rutger Hauer (!). It is actually set Twenty Minutes into the Future, but its predictions and overall mood are very much based on the Russian Nineties.
- The Bourne Supremacy, with the climax being a Car Chase in Moscow between Bourne and a rogue FSB assassin.
- A common setting for Direct-to-Video action films such as The Mechanik (Dolph Lundgren) and 6 Bullets'' (Jean-Claude Van Damme).
- Briefly shown as a dreary, snow-covered and crime-ridden place in Iron Man 2.
- The Swedish/Danish Tear Jerker Lilya 4-ever starts out here, fully exploring how awful it can be. And then it gets worse.
- Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch and sequels, though that's technically not New Russia at its worst.
- Naturally, a lot of modern Russian thrillers are set here.
- Boris Akunin's Nicholas Fandorin series could be described as Erast Fandorin... IN NEW RUSSIA!
- Yulia Latynina's "economic thrillers" are all about New Russia's... unique economic conditions and the sort of people who actually thrive in it.
- Vladimir Sorokin's dilogy of dystopias The Day of Oprichnik and The Sugar Kremlin describes future Russia as a mix of New Russia and pre-Peter the Great Muscovite Tsarist Russia, with a large dose of Cyber Punk and Post Modernism.
- Vadim Panov's Secret City series of novel is basically about the Masquerade in modern Moscow, with plenty of crime in the background.
- Tom Clancy's Politika, the novel and the board game.
- Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident features Mafiya and post-Soviet economic chaos.
- John Wells has this in the Silent Man. It's only one chapter, but what Wells is so sickened that, if the choices were Afghan backwater or Moscow nightclub, he'll pick the first.
- While the futuristic Empire in Nikolai Dante bears many trappings of its Tsarist inspiration, many of its traditions can be traced back to the hardships of post-Soviet Russia, with the nobility themselves largely descended from the Mafiya.
- The main setting for Blood Promise. Rose wanders in post-Soviet Russian cities like Saint Petersburg and Novosibirsk.
- In the 2010 version of Nikita, it turns out that Alex has a connection to this. She was the daughter of an extremely powerful Russian oligarch that was assassinated by a Division strike team making her a latter day Anastasia. Much of season two is about the conflict with a Russian PMC and Division.
- Age of Aquarius is a Tabletop RPG made in The New Russia, for The New Russia and about The New Russia... with MAAAGIC!!!
- 2027 has a good chunk of the game set in the Russian Confederation, which is shown to be little more than a crime-ridden police state.
- A third of Alpha Protocol takes place in the New Russia, and Sergei Surkov is a New Russia businessman, his dossier noting that he's had a combination of the right brains and the right luck to do well for himself in the environment. It seems like this is something of a glossy sugar coating when you learn that he used to be part of the The Mafiya; as Russia is presented as having its fair share of organized crime problems, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that he's lying about severing those ties.
- In Call Of Duty 4, Sergeant Kamarov says, "Welcome to the new Russia, Captain Price." In the next game, they invade America. Although it's more of a Soviet Russia and not a New Russia. Where they get the manpower and money to simultaneously invade every single major Western power is anyone's guess...
- In Fighting Games, the stages that represent Russia will be typically grim, dreary places — blast furnaces, factories, power-stations and bleak rail-yards are popular home-stages for Russian fighters.
- Adventure game The Big Red Adventure, the sequel of Nippon Safes Inc, begins in Moscow immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many people embraced the capitalist lifestyle. It's a pretty heavy-handed satire, with the currency being named "rubledollars" and brands called "McRomanov", "Burger Czar", "Lenintendo" and "Vodka-Cola" (not to mention puns like "Super Marx"). The rest of the game is more of a parody of generic Russian stereotypes, but the main point is to stop a Mad Scientist who wants to resurrect Lenin in order to re-create USSR once again.