Tuesday, July 7, 2020

July 1 Vote Energized Opposition to Putin and Intensified Succession Struggle, Pavlovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 5 – By asking Russians to vote yes or no on Putin’s proposals, the Kremlin made a serious mistake, transforming what might have been something like an election into “’a question of trust,’” as the Kremlin spokesman put it; and its results simultaneously highlighted the size of opposition to Putin and thus intensified the succession struggle, Gleb Pavlovsky says.

            Worse, the political technologist and commentator says, those who voted for the amendments did so less because they were for Putin than because they are conservatives. The regime can do nothing with them, but those who voted no are now a clearly defined and even legitimized group (business-gazeta.ru/article/473779).

            And consequently, Pavlovsky says, instead of resolving the question of succession, Putin made it much bigger and more explosive because now the question is not simply who will replace him at some point but how the system will be transformed after he goes. By personalizing the constitution, he has ensured that it won’t long outlast his time in office. 

            Indeed, by acting as he has, Putin has recreated a situation much like the one that existed at the time of the death of Stalin. Everyone who had a chance to succeed realized that the only path forward was to be an anti-Stalinist. Beria recognized that first, but very quickly so did all the others. No one positioned himself as a continuer of the late dictator’s approach.

            The simplest thing for the successors would be to “annul” Putin’s constitution and go back to the 1993 one he has gutted, but that is only one possibility; and the others could destabilize the system further, the political commentator says. Thus, Putin did not get the mandate he sought or a solution to his problems. He made them worse.

            Now, Pavlovsky says, there is a chance that Putin will try something even more extreme. After all, he has always been “a latent extremist.” He might try a new attack abroad or a pogrom at home, but there is a good chance that these would backfire, the first as Crimea did and the second by causing those not attacked first to assume they could be next.

            The Kremlin leader might try something in Belarus, but that would be especially dangerous. He and Lukashenka are like “a pathological family” in which the two partners can’t live together but can’t divorce because if either goes, the other would soon fall into disaster. It isn’t clear whether Putin understands that.

            And he is always inclined to go too far because “triumphalism is the Kremlin’s only ideology. Because we have three powers in the country – the formal (which is enumerated in the laws and Constitution), the informal (that which exists by telephone calls), and the demonstrative,” the propaganda machine that “imitates power, victory and triumph” all the time.

            “Authoritarianism can be effective if there is a working bureaucratic system which is able to take orders and fulfill them,” Pavlovsky continues. But Russia doesn’t have one. Putin used to be fully in charge, but in the pandemic, he ceded power to others – they were more effective than he and everyone can see that.

            That is having the effect of creating a situation in which the pre-existing Russian system has “not a single chance to survive” the pandemic. Putin’s remaining supporters expected him to act and he didn’t; and his increasingly numerous opponents open or not see that he didn’t and want someone in his place who will.

            This reflects a fundamental reality, he says. “The Russian system is able to do only one thing: it isn’t capable of developing and modernizing, it isn’t capable of military mobilization (thank God!) but it can survive.” When the people on top cease functioning, those below can still  do so. “The system is smarter than its bosses.”

            This system arose with the collapse of communism and one can say that “the entire Russian Federation system is a means of survival during a catastrophe … Crises and threats keep its apparatus of survival up to snuff. We have survived, and this is a success; but it is not a success of Putin.” It is the success of this broader striving to survive.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is Putin Narrowing His Complaint about Republics?

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 5 – Vladimir Putin has often attacked Lenin’s creation of union republics, saying most recently and dramatically that the Bolshevik leader had forced Russia to give these entities land that had belonged to Russian from time immemorial, attacks that suggests he dislikes the existence of republics as such.

But in an interview on the Moscow.Kremlin.Putin program on Russia-1, the Kremlin leader narrowed the focus of his complaint on the republics to just one provision Lenin had offered union republics: their right to exit the USSR on their own (rbc.ru/politics/05/07/2020/5f01ab049a794700be0883d1?from=from_main_1).

That and not the mere existence of the republics as Putin has seemed to suggest in most earlier commentaries is “the delayed action mine” which Lenin inserted under Russia in 1922 when he oversaw the formation of the USSR.

It is entirely possible that Putin’s remarks in this case mean nothing, that he views the right to leave as simply one aspect of the existence of the non-Russian republics. But there is at least a possibility that Putin doesn’t care if republics exist in Russia as long as they don’t have the right to leave.

At present, of course, the non-Russian republics do not have that right under the Russian constitution and laws. There is no chance they are going to have that right recognized by a Putin regime.  But if he can live with republics as long as they can’t leave and are under total central control, he may be less obsessed with abolishing him than many in them think. 

If that really is Putin’s position, it will offend many Russian nationalists who want the republics eliminated; but it will also be something the leaders of the non-Russian republics may try to explore, not because it represents all they want but because it may mean they are less likely to be targeted for extinction than they had thought. 

Indeed, Putin’s remark today suggests that doing away with the republics as long as they can’t leave may not be as high a priority with him as many had assumed.

‘Almost Like a War,’ Coronavirus Pandemic Swelling Number of Street Children in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 5 – Over the last century, Russia has seen dramatic rises in the number of homeless and unsupervised children as the result of wars and social convulsions like collectivization, but now their ranks are swelling because of the coronavirus pandemic, an indication of how severe it has been and how difficult it will be to overcome.

            Minor children who have no fixed place of address and are not under the supervision of parents of other relatives, a group known in Russian as bezprizorniki (“the unsupervised”) have appeared with remarkable and troubling regularity after major conflicts and social upheavals. There were millions after the Russian civil war, collectivization and World War II.

            Now, the coronavirus is having a similar, albeit smaller effect.  Officials say the number of such children has risen to 75,500 from roughly eight thousand less two years earlier, but that figure almost certainly is a serious understatement of the problem given difficulties of identifying such children and unwillingness of officials to acknowledge them (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/77897).

            According to Irina Voynets, head of the National Parents Committee, the number of bezprizorniki has increased because of “the degradation of the family in the Russian Federation and the impoverishment of the population as a result of declining incomes.” Parents can’t afford housing or children, and the latter become particular victims.

            One measure of this horrific situation is that 80 percent of the children in orphanages are “social orphans.” That is, one or both parents are still alive but can’t or don’t want to take care of their children. However, the young people who make it to state orphanages are the lucky ones. Many children are simply dumped on the street where they become victims of crime and other maladies.

            Homeless in general is increasing in Russia, Pavel Sklyanchuk of the Union of Young Political Scientists says.  Because of the collapse of the economy, many lose their housing; and the informal organizations that had sought to help such people in the past have been unable to function normally because of the pandemic.

The result is disastrous. And what is especially unfortunate is that if the current wave of bezprizorniki continues, Russia’s earlier experience with this phenomenon suggests that it will take far longer to overcome this problem than many others because tragically it will attract less attention (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/11/russia-suffering-staggering-indirect.html).