During the holidays, on the way back from my country house, I pulled into the nearest petrol station, for such was my habit, and all the more so this time since the advertised price (24 roubles 90 kopeks) pleasantly surprised me. On the window at the cash desk, however, I ran into a sign I haven’t seen for quite some time: “AI-92 and AI-95 out of stock”. The situation at the next petrol station was exactly the same: pleasant Putin-era prices on the large signs visible from afar, and a modest little sign inside: “out of stock”. I began to worry, for the little yellow light on my indicator panel had lit up long since. Thankfully, things were all in order at the third place: there was petrol, though it did cost 26.90. But I was almost overjoyed. I would have been happy even to see 27.90 or 29.
The petrol crisis will soon be over. This is as certain as that sooner or later there will be another mini-crisis. The moments of light panic between the second and third stations reminded me most vividly of the 1980s and the constant need to keep in mind where, when and what one had to stock up on, and where something was most likely not to be found. And things didn’t disappear immediately. In the dairy shop near the house there was this wonderful sour cream sold by the weight. At some point in time it became necessary to arrive sometime before around noon if one hoped to get their hands on it. And then the taste of the sour cream became unpleasant. And before long one had to come in morning even to purchase the unpleasant version. And then the booth selling the sour cream disappeared. And then Swan Lake started to play on every channel. But it became immediately clear that the life and soul of the empire was contained in the sour cream and not Tchaikovsky.
Filling up with petrol and returning the equilibrium to my soul for 26.90 a litre, I started to think that the petrol mini-crisis was a clear indicator of the imminent decline of the rule of those whom the entire world already knows as siloviki. In 1999, the unavoidability of the appearance of the siloviki on the political Mount Olympus had become clear: the democrats and market-economy cheerleaders in the early 1990s had been compromised en route by a protracted and disheartening road. The oligarchs had become absorbed by the need to outdo each other in the seizure of property, cash flow and government structure. Yuri Luzhkov and Yevgeny Primakov went on and on about the domestic commodity producer, while behind their backs the commercialised Soviet type despondently came into view. It was then that the siloviki flashed across the screen: the refined-looking General Nikolayev, a certain Bordyuzha, the pseudo-silovik Stepashin. The siloviki were considered to be pragmatic and it was thought that for that reason they could become the symbol of a reasonable compromise between the past and future. A silovik-come-market economy advocate was needed: someone who wouldn’t crush the market, instead toning down in it the turbulent colours that had accompanied the scandalous practices flooding in.
And now, filling up with petrol only at the third station – petrol that cost, by the way, a dollar a litre, exactly like in the United States – it is the proper time to tally up the results of the project.
The word silovik doesn’t exist in the English language for good reason. A silovik is a person professionally linked to one of the areas of state violence: military, special services, prosecutor and police. But a silovik is more than just a profession, it is a worldview. As far as a silovik is concerned, force and compulsion are not an essential resource to be employed to guarantee a certain duty is carried out, like defending the country, law enforcement, or the protection of society, but rather a universal, basic mechanism for social organisation in its own right: the cornerstone upon which society and the state are founded. They are its very foundation. The market, law and democracy can appear to him to be altogether useful accessories, but they are no more than superstructure, decorations, coverings refining and retouching the fact that the foundation of social relations are force and compulsion.
In contrast to the representatives of the security, defence and law-enforcement agencies of an abstract, ideal state, which defend society from some specific threat or another, the silovik protects society first and foremost from society itself. The silovik-military man is incapable of waging war, waging rather a constant battle against the disorganisation and slackness of civilians and new recruits. The silovik-police officer is incapable of catching criminals, fervently carrying out instead preventative measures, checking documents and permits, and he can prove to any respectable citizen that that person has crossed beyond the bounds of the law. A silovik from the special services is incapable of protecting society from terrorists, but he can enthusiastically see to it that citizens don’t accidentally become accomplices, and don’t create conditions favourable for terrorist acts. The silovik is constantly punishing society for the threats from which he cannot protect society. In other words, the silovik is gradually though unavoidably transforming himself from a protector into a vertukhai (turnkey) (if we have undertaken to improve the English language, so lacking in the face of our everyday reality).
What is most important and interesting for us in the context of our search for petrol is, it stands to reason, the relationship between the silovik and the market. The silovik respects the market, and even more: he fervently, passionately respects his relationship with the market. In the market he senses a rival force and seeks to overcome it, to subordinate it. Yes, the silovik is prepared to root out abuse of the market, though to do so it is necessary for him first of all to capture it and bring it under his control. In the eyes of the silovik, the market is not a remarkable mechanism of self-development, but a tool capable of being very useful, though at the same time very destructive depending on who controls it. And for that reason, like a slave in the galleys, night and day the silovik is occupied with correcting markets imperfections. That is to say: step by step he is burning out, crossing out from the market the very elements that make a market what it is in an attempt to give it more order and organisation. To protect, so to speak, the market from the market.
In the market, the silovik is fascinated by the way resources can be turned into capital, and he is irritated by uncontrolled competition, the free play of supply and demand, and the instability of equilibrium. This is why the silovik prefers a monopoly, cartel and other such forms of market compulsion. Competition, nevertheless, also seems quite useful to the silovik, though only in as much as it allows him to serve as arbitrator and to decide who wins. The market, under the control of the silovik, is a market of appointed winners.
And so, when all of this allotment of appointed winners, trained champions, cartels and monopolies, when this entire flowerbed of carefully and regularly separated weeds is nearly ready, and even wayward market prices dare not disobey the silovik – for some reason all the petrol disappears. With titanic effort the silovik returns petrol to the market. And for some reason millet then disappears. Or buckwheat. Or something else. Force and compulsion are necessary to protect the freedom of the market, not to eat away at it. And this is the reason for the fiasco of the silovik.