Staunton, November 12 – Russians beyond the ring road see the negative impact of sanctions on Muscovites and Petersburgers as simple justice because they think that people in the two capitals have lived too well for too long, according to Maria Matskevich, a researcher at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology.
She told a roundtable organized by Rosbalt.ru that many Russians “are ready to suffer a worsening of their position because the rich are bearing the main economic losses – not the oligarchs but the residents of Moscow and Petersburg who, in the opinion of Russians have lived too richly. In their misfortunes, they see justice” (rosbalt.ru/piter/2014/11/11/1336458.html).
At the same time, she said, Russians are not prepared to sacrifice everything in order to live in “a great country.” Moreover, even though four out of five Russians believe that their country is surrounded by enemies, the majority believe that “it is necessary” to work out better relations with them.
Other speakers at the session offered some equally provocative ideas. Andrey Stolyarov, a specialist on Russian culture, said that “the current political and economic situation in Russia recalls the regime of Napoleon III in France," who turned to foreign expansion when he faced rising complaints at home as a result of a deterioration of the situation there.
“The Russian authorities found themselves in exactly the same situation in the winter of 2011-2012 when civic protests broke out,” and they “found an enemy in the form of Ukraine.” But in the course of this, he said, Putin “is losing touch with reality.” His actions are those of “a man with unlimited power after a period of successes” who turns to “imperial ambitions.”
In his remarks, Stolyarov drew another parallel between Putin and a leader in the past: Adolf Hitler. The German chancellor would have been remembered even now as “the restorer of Greater Germany” if he had “stopped with the annexation of Sudetenland.” The implication is that Putin would have too if he had stopped with Crimea.
But Putin has not stopped, the domestic situation has not improved, and so, Stolyarov said, “we are restoring the Brezhnev era” which held things together for a long time but which did not end well.
Another participant in the roundtable, Dmitry Travin of the Center for Research on Modernization at the European University, offered an even more dire view of the future. He suggested that the Russian economy had already passed “the point of no return” on its way to collapse.
The only thing Russians can hope for, he suggested, is a revolution in Saudi Arabia that would send the price of oil back up. In the absence of that, the powers that be can hold things together by inculcating the idea that Russia is surrounded by enemies. But that is a holding action. To make Russia into a great power would require more, and Russians aren’t ready for that.
In the current situation, Travin argued, the regime would need “human victims” much as Stalin did in Soviet times. But neither Putin nor the Russian people are prepared “to accept poverty in order to support the illusion of being a great power.” People in Moscow know that “Russians are not prepared to eat just macaroni and chicken.”
But that doesn’t mean, he continued, that regime change is going to happen. Instead, it is entirely possible that “all will live without excessive euphoria, without prospects as at the end of the late Soviet stagnation. Then too people lived until the end of all the leaders of a single generation.”
But a fourth participant, Grigory Tulchinsky, a political scientist at the Higher School of Economics, said the situation could not only last a long time but could become worse. He suggested that Russians should think about the possibility that their country could become another North Korea.
“The exchange of freedom for the idea of a great power can be extended for a very long time,” he said. “Even with the help of the army. The budget already is going to the force structures. Now the government is playing against the ruble, taking money out of the pockets of the population with the help of counter-sanctions.”
“The ruling political class,” Tulchinsky said, “will do everything in order to remain in power.” And yet another generation will have to grow up before anything much can change.