Staunton, July 4 – That Putin has intervened in Ukraine at least in part to overcome the political challenges he faced in 2011-2012 and that he has made Russian more authoritarian in the process is largely common ground. But a new book gives remarkable details about these links and these trends and suggests that Putin’s authoritarianism is will only intensify.
This week, Russia’s Liberal Mission released a 260-page book, “The Main Trends in the Political Development of Russia in 2011-2013: The Crisis and Transformation of Russian Electoral Authoritarianism” (in Russian; Moscow, 2014) edited by Kirill Rogov and prepared by a group of analysts including Dmitry Oreshkin and Vladimir Pastukhov (liberal.ru/upload/files/Osnovnie%20tendentsii%20politicheskogo%20razvitiya.pdf).
The authors argue that the annexation of Crimea was “beyond doubt” a turning point in Russian history, the occasion for Putin to move in a more authoritarian direction. But they suggest that this event cannot be understood without an appreciating the ways his response to the protests of 2012-2013 started the shift from “soft authoritarianism” to a much harsher version
After carefully tracing the rise and fall of opposition activity in response to the falsification of the parliamentary and presidential elections and Putin’s increasingly authoritarian response to that movement, one that he clearly viewed as a threat to his system and personal rule, the Liberal Mission author offer five conclusions.
First, they suggest that the chief factors driving an increase in the level of repression in Russia as in any society are the amount of repression already in place and a rise in public protests against the regime. Putin’s Russia was already authoritarian; the protests prompted him to make it even more so.
They argue that “political repressions are case when quantity does pass into quality” and where the use of repressive means by the regime against an increasing number of protesters increases the regime’s propensity to use repression and the population’s sense that repression is to be expected rather than something rare and marginal.
Second, as Putin’s repressive actions affected an ever larger circle of the population, officials in the regime increasingly accepted this pattern as defining the new “rules of the game,” but political activists found it ever more unacceptable even when they could not avoid changing their behavior because of the repression.
That led to a growing divide between the regime and the politically active part of the population and to attempts by the regime as in the case of it actions in Ukraine to isolate the latter by appealing to the large part of the population that had not yet been swept up in the protest movement against that movement.
Third, “the growth in the level of political repressions,” they conclude, has led to “the development of forms of protest action in response.” Thus, the kinds of protests became more varied, their financing came from more sources, and their use of the Internet more widespread. In response, the Putin regime continued to ramp up repression.
Fourth, as the siloviki, on the one hand, and the broader population, on the other, became more accustomed to the use of repression against activists, that very fact created the preconditions “for the further broadening of the social base of those being repressed,” with ever new groups suffering as a result.
And fifth, in the short term, this intensification of repression has been “quite effective” in quieting society and dissuading people from an open display of opposition, but over the longer term, the growth in repression may have serious consequences for the political regime by reducing its legitimacy and forcing the regime to find new targets to mobilize those carrying out its repressive approach.
As a result of all these factors, the authors say, there is every reason to think that “the level of political repressions will only grow” in terms of both their extent and their intensity and will increasingly become “an inseparable part” of “the political culture” of the Putin regime until all this provokes an explosion.
In sum, the Liberal Mission authors say, the increasing authoritarianism of the Putin regime will display a tendency to develop according to “its own laws, without a direct connection with social-political reality” and thus is now set to intensify regardless of how anyone else acts or responds.