Monday, February 25, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin System Degenerating and Will Be Swept Away, Solovey Argues

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – The Russian Federation is “again entering a period of radical changes when entirely different and still unknown forces and figures” will replace those that President Vladimir Putin has assembled around him, according to Valery Solovey, an MGIMO professor who heads the New Force Party.

            In an interview with Aleksandr Zadorozhny that appeared on the Ekaterinburg internet-newspaper “Znak” on Saturday, Solovey went significantly beyond the conclusions offered last week by Minchenko Consulting concerning shifts at the top of the Russian political system (

            As both the change of Russia’s defense minister and the departure of members of the Duma show, Solovey said, Russia’s “elite understands very well that Putin is weakening and has begun to thin about its own political fate after him,” a future “which may come somewhat earlier” than the next scheduled presidential elections.

            What is occurring and what the elite has taken note of, he continued, is that “the existing construction of power created in the first decade of this century has entered into a stage of self-destruction” and that “the longer things go on, the more rapid will be the destruction of all this construction.” Indeed, Solovey said, “a moment will come when it will simply disintegrate.”

            That “does not mean,” of course, that elements of the elite will not survive, he said. They are too “significant” for that, “but the entire pyramid which is based not on the foundation but on the top, that is, on the president, is beginning to fall apart.” Up to now, the conflicts within the elite over this have mostly been behind the scenes, but that could soon change.

             “The elite will come out openly only” when there are major protests “from below,” and in that event, “part of the elite will extend its hand to this civic protest.” Putin understands this, Solovey said, and is seeking to maintain “a policy of balance” within the elite, but “all the same, politically he really has weakened.”

            Those around the president are much less in control of the situation than they were only a few years ago, he continued, because “the strategic framework has already been defined” as one in which “Russia has entered an all-national political crisis.” This is something that has become “inevitable and irreversible.”

            Many experts in Russia and even more abroad agree that “Russia is a former great power which is now in degradation.”  Moreover, Solovey insisted, “there is no way to stop this,” although he conceded that “today we are only at the beginning phase of the crisis.” It is thus far too early to say what Russia will chose other than to turn its back on the current leadership.

            Pressed by his interviewer, Solovey acknowledged that “one needs to be realistic: Russia for a long time yet … will remain primarily a raw materials exporter and will continue to depend in a critical way on the export of these raw materials.”  But that “does not mean” that Moscow could not make choices that would result in far better use of its earnings than it has.

            Just exactly what will precipitate some of these dramatic changes is by definition unknown, Solovey argued, but he said that tensions over immigration are now so high that an inter-ethnic fight in a major city could lead to violence and strikes elsewhere. If that were to occur, “after three or four days, we simply would not recognize Russia.”

            Members of the top elite are already speculating about this and trying to decide what they should do, he continued. That is typical of all regimes as they approach their end, and equally typical are the harsh measures those regimes adopt in the hope of maintaining themselves for a little longer. Unfortunately for them, such actions are usually counterproductive.

            But when this process takes place, Solovey said, it will not necessarily involve “catastrophic excesses” or anything like a civil war or even an Arab spring. Moreover, those at the top will be swept away. And third, new leaders will emergence, quite possibly “people from the regions.”

            The exit of Pekhtin from the Duma highlights an important step in that direction, Solovey argued.  Under Putin, people like Pekhtin could acquire second and sometimes even a first home abroad. “In the Bible, there is a remarkable phrase: where your treasure it so too will be your heart.” 

            But now the Putin regime has turned “180 degrees” and is saying to the elites: “No, from now on, your motherland is here, it awaits you and your children. Return.  It is this decision which has turned the entire elite against Putin.”  They aren’t interested in serving Russia, Solovey said. “They prefer to leave.”

            There is much talk of forming a new political coalition as the party of power and of holding elections as soon as possible “when the situation is still on the whole under control and can guarantee the necessary result, giving the authorities a new lease on life and a new legitimacy.”

           But it is likely, Solovey argued, that such voting “will lead to exactly the opposite results, to the disintegration of the system.” And he suggested that none of the issues the regime has raised such as changing the territorial divisions of the country will prevent that because while the political class may be interested in such things, society as a whole is interested in “other things.”

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