Putin and his advisers do not intend to recreate the old Soviet enterprises, top-heavy with management and burdened by inefficient central planning. Instead, they seem to want profitable companies that can generate a revenue stream for their shareholders-including the Russian state. What is emerging is state-directed capitalism, in which private owners play a role and have the opportunity to bank profits.
We are seeing in today's Russia the consolidation of a system of managed pluralism-in which the Kremlin sets the overall agenda, but with some room for political and economic competition and choice. Whether this is a disappointing direction depends on with whom you speak. Most Russians support Putin's vision of 'orderly' state-directed reform, looking to the center to reel in the power of the oligarchs and local bosses.
There is indeed a pronounced authoritarian streak in today's Russia. But there are also optimistic signs-the seeds of a middle class beginning to take root, the steady rise in the number of home-grown charities and other civil-society organizations-that point to a more democratic Russia emerging in the future.
Gvosdev points to the influence of a Russian academic, Vladimir Litvinenko, rector of the State Mining Institute in St. Petersburg, who has a theory of national control of natural resources which he says explains Putin's actions in the energy sector. Litvinenko is an advisor to Putin from his St. Petersburg days.
Persuasive, but still, I'd feel better if Putin let Khodorkovsky go.