President Putin is inheriting a mess. After almost a decade of Boris Yeltsin, Russia is reduced to a neocolonial wreck with collapsing birthrates, moribund industry, and a fractured body politic. A narrow stratum of robber barons, who do not give a hoot for the country or its people, are busy squandering Russia’s still ample resources in return for huge profits that arc subsequently spent in Western casinos or invested in Western banks.

The rest suffer. The grim orderliness of the era of “real” socialism has given way to a mix of brazen consumerism at the top and abject poverty everywhere else, a mix usually encountered in more moderate climes. Gold-chromed Grand Cherokees speed past the crumbling facades of dreadful 1960’s tower blocks; pitiful babushkas beg (“for the sake of Christ, for thy soul . . . “) right outside flashy boutiques selling the latest Parisian designer collections. At the Bolshoi bar, between acts, German businessmen smugly buy half-bottles of the sweet Modovan champagne for their pretty Russian escorts, at least two decades their junior.

The country is in disarray! This is the wail heard in very different quarters. It is repeated in elegant nouveau-riche apartments on the Arbat (icons on the wall, Italian furniture, Japanese stereo, and platitudes about the market economy and Western-style democracy) and in the smoke-filled office of the Union of Writers (samovar and vodka, piles of books and newspapers; the search for the Meaning of Russia continues). The disarray is there, all right, but few of those offering such diagnosis can suggest a therapy.

Angry old men, predictably enough, want to “shoot them all” (“they” being not only the unpleasant Grand Cherokee drivers, but just about everyone under 60). This tried and tested Russian recipe stops short of step two: Then what? The lack of a viable program that would promise more than a better yesterday is the bane of the Communists. They never presented a credible alternative: a dour lot they are, those recycled apparatchiks with balding pates and bulging waists, nostalgic for their cozy world of dachas, chauffeur-driven Volgas, and special stores for the elite. Their promises of a better yesterday worked with the multimillion army of impoverished pensioners, but they are devoid of real ideas and solutions.

Earnest yuppified technocrats, on the other hand, with their Foreign Language Institute English and their hopes of American scholarships, parrot the New-World-Order-speak of radical free market reforms, of democratic institutions and “Europe.” Chubais was their man, of course, but they still hope to capture Putin’s attention. “Inevitable,” they say, in view of Russia’s financial dire straits. They do not understand the globalist music, much less its full implications, but they like its sound. Their inferiority complex vis-à-vis “the West” has given us Kozyrev’s disastrous foreign policy and the IMF-style reform of the early Yeltsin years. Their abject failure will never be accepted, much less examined. They are the janissaries of the West, and they believe that their time will come. They do not say it, but they remember that Marxism itself was a Western import into Russia’s body politic, enthroned with the aid of non-indigenous forces and the support of “progressives” the world over. They still control the Foreign Ministry (MID) bureaucracy and want to continue the policy of appeasing Washington in the former Yugoslavia, often to the exasperation of other elements in the power structure. Their approach —based on the rhetoric of “post-Cold War cooperation”—overlooks the new Evil Empire’s character and agenda.

Putin’s first task should be to clean the stables and establish where Russia stands in the new international order. In many Russians’ minds, last year’s Kosovo crisis was the last moment to start doing so, but under Yeltsin it could not be done. The former Yugoslavia is now seen as the test ease of Russia’s relations with the Western world for decades to come. Many see NATO in Tuzla and Pristina as the herald of NATO in Latvia, Estonia, or the Ukraine. It is now suspected in Moscow that there have always been people in Washington—such as Zbigniew Brzezinski—who regarded Russia, rather than the Soviet Union, as the enemy. They should be forced to declare their intentions.

That will not be enough to get Russia back on its feet, however. Across the ideological spectrum patriotic intellectuals warn that, without moral and spiritual renewal, Russia cannot be saved. And yet, when asked about the practical scenario for making this happen, they display an almost oriental fatalism: It may happen, but only by a miracle. When pressed, Russia’s foremost mathematician and thinker, Igor Shafarevich, admits that, “as a scientist,” he sees no grounds for recovery “in the foreseeable future.” As an Orthodox Christian, however, he believes that the Holy Spirit may intervene in ways unexpected and mysterious.

In the meantime, nine-tenths of the people have no time to ponder any macro-issues. They are too busy struggling to make ends meet, and this many of them miraculously manage even though, statistically, most of the population is below what is considered the poverty line in the “developed” world. Russia’s Western “partners” are making sure that she will not belong to that world for a very long time. The economy has been effectively reduced to neocolonial status: Russia’s natural resources, such as natural gas, oil, rare metals, precious stones, and timber, are traded for Western consumer goods and industrial products. There are hefty profits there for the state-approved mafiosi who control the process of exchange, which may explain their reluctance to contemplate any fundamental change in the power structure. Under Putin, they want more Yeltsin.

After Yeltsin, Russia must re-explore political reality in the big, wide world. More importantly, regardless of Putin’s ultimate intentions, it is at least possible that Russia’s recovery-and self-discovery—may commence. As long as the misshapen drunk was lord of the Kremlin, that was not in the cards.