Staunton, December 18 – The weakness of the Russian state explains why the Kremlin is increasingly relying on repression, according to the founder of Memorial, and that weakness in turn is at least in part a reflection of Vladimir Putin’s effort to destroy any autonomous structures that might prevent him from acting in an arbitrary faction, according to a leading regionalist.
Yesterday, the Kasparov.ru portal published a translation of Swedish article (amnestypress.se/media/issues/pdf/2013/AmnestyPress%20Nr%205%202013_1.pdf) in which Svetlana Gannushkina and Aleksey Sakhnin, a Russian opposition figure now living in Sweden, discuss increasing repression (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=52AEE299401CD).
Gannushkina argues that “the intensification of repression in Russia is the result of the weakening of executive power in [Russia] because only a weak regime is forced to use force to administer the country.” Other countries with stronger state administrations can rely on law and institutions instead.
At present, she continues, “the Russian powers that be run to repression on any occasion: in the struggle with the opposition, to put down civil society, dealing with migrants or even the carrying out of reforms of science.” As a result, she says, she is “constantly encountering people who each day live in fear” of official arbitrariness and repressssion.
Gannushkina adds that “we see extremely negative trends in Russia today,” including the use of xenophobic rhetoric by all political groups in the campaign for the Moscow mayoralty and outbursts of violence as at Biryulevo. The MVD reported yesterday there have been at least 150 such clashes in the last 18 months (nazaccent.ru/content/10051-zamglavy-mvd-za-poltora-goda-policiya.html).
According to the Memorial founder, after Biryulevo, “the powers that be opened a genuine hunt for migrants and the police ceased to look at the documents people carry but only glanced at the color of their skin or the shape of their face,” a campaign intended to direct popular anger away from the regime and toward immigrants.
Aleksey Sakhnin, a member of the Left Front movement, says he agrees and that he chose to go into exile when he saw his friends “one after another” be arrested and go to prison or still worse be confined to a psychiatric prison as part of the authorities’ attempt “to paralyze our movement.” All this recalls the worst features of Soviet campaigns against the dissidents.
Sakhnin points to the anti-gay campaign the authorities have launched, a campaign that has stirred up some Russians but proved less effective that the xenophobic one because “while Russia was never especially tolerant toward gays, this issue was not one of the most important” for the population.
Neither Gannushkina nor Sakhnin see much hope in the near term despite the weakness of the regime because the weakness of the opposition and particularly the inability of its leaders to cooperate. Navalny, for instance, isn’t interested in that. Instead, Gannushkina says, he is “a dangerous man” whose rhetoric reflects a desire to be the only leader and who “appeals to emotions rather than facts.”
Also yesterday, in an article posted on KM.ru, Pavel Svyatenkov, a leading regionalist activist and theorist, discusses what he sees as a major reason for the increasing weakness of the state: Putin’s attack on institutions that limit his ability to intervene personally and rule in an arbitrary manner in all things (km.ru/v-rossii/2013/12/17/vladimir-putin/728012-perevod-strany-v-rezhim-ruchnogo-upravleniya-svidetelstvue).
Over the last several months, he writes, there has been “a strange trend: the institutions which guarantee the functioning of society are being destroyed.” Among these are the Academy of Sciences, the judicial system, the procuracy, the Novosti news agency, and “even the Book Chamber.”
The official explanations don’t stand up to scrutiny, Svyatenkov says. Not only do they keep changing, but they contradict one another, a pattern that suggests analysts need to consider the broader pattern and revise some of the things that they have been saying about Putin and his regime.
Six months ago, many commentators were suggesting that “Putin was setting up ‘a corporate state,’” but that is clearly wrong: “any corporate state presupposes the present of corporations,” not so much major companies like Gazprom but rather self-administrating “guilds” of a medieval type.
But it is now clear that “Vladimir Putin does not trust [such] corporations” and intends to try to subordinate everything to himself in a way that will allow him maximum freedom of action to intervene, even though that will increase the level of fear in society and overwhelm his or anyone else’s capacity to run the country.
To be effective, “corporations must function autonomously,” Svyatenkov says. Their destruction “testified to a deep uncertainty in the stability of the state. The ruler cannot do everything himself,” however much he would like to. He has to rely on others; the question is whether they will be institutionally based or only personally loyal.
“The Americans say that there are to styles of administration, the ‘Carter’ and the ‘Reagan.’” The first tries to make all the decisions centrally, something beyond its capacity, while the second sought to set general policies and then allow others to fill in the details and implement them.
Each approach has its positive and negative features, but pushing too far in either direction is dangerous. Putin clearly isn’t trying to get involved in everything all the time, but he equally clearly wants to be able to get involved in anything when he wants to without regard to existing institutional arrangements.
That should be a major of “extreme concern” because it shows the “decomposition of the state” since “without the president it won’t be possible to solve even on question.” Moreover, Svyatenkov says, such arrangements create the potential for even more serious problems in a crisis or after Putin leaves, yet another reason why he may have chosen this approach.