Staunton, June 21 – In 1983, Yury Andropov famously told a plenum of the CPSU Central Committee that “if we speak openly, we still do not know sufficiently the society in which we live and work.” The same thing could be said of Vladimir Putin and his entourage, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
That should worry the Moscow elite, the Moscow economist continues, because Andropov’s words came eight years before the collapse of the USSR, exactly the same amount of time between now and the completion of Putin’s “last legitimate term in office.” How things will end this time around, of course, “only time will tell” (snob.ru/selected/entry/109865).
And the elite should be especially concerned now because what has formed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea is not a new “consensus” between the regime and an active population but rather the domination of the authoritarian state over an increasingly passive people. That will give the illusion of stability, but such illusory stability won’s last forever.
For most of the first decade of Putin’s rule, Inozemtsev says, political analysts spoke about “a Putin consensus,” one based on the willing of the population to sacrifice its political rights to an ever more authoritarian regime in exchange for significant improvements in its standard of living.
That “’consensus,’” he continues, “led to the demise of many political institutions, to violations of the constitution, and to the elimination of many political freedoms, but at the same time, it appeared quit stable and survived even the economic crisis of 2008-2009.” But it fell apart in the winter of 2011 when some in society no longer were willing to take part in it.
Initially, Inozemtsev says, the authorities appeared to be frightened and began “a certain ‘liberalization.’” But then they responded in a more typical fashion with “anti-Western hysteria, aggression against Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea and broad talk about ‘raising [Russia] from its knees.”
The enormous support Putin received from the population led many analysts to conclude that a new Putin consensus had been formed not on the basis of an exchange of money for power but rather reflecting the willingness of the Russian population to support Putin on patriotic and nationalist grounds.
But the Kremlin’s failures – Russia’s transformation into an international outcast and the collapse of the economy – he argues, suggest that no real new consensus has been formed because the population is not in a position to agree or disagree with the regime about what it would consist of.
Consequently, to call the support that Russians supposedly have for Putin evidence of such a consensus is not something that Inozemtsev says he is prepared to do. The supposed “’second Putin consensus’” never formed, he argues, because the population has been excluded from political life completely.
That was Putin’s goal from the outset, the Moscow economist says, and his “cleansing” of the Russian political space has achieved his goal. With each passing year, the Russian population is less inclined to speak out in defense of its own interests or even when its rights are violated.
“What has taken place in recent years in Russia,” Inozemtsev says, “is difficult to imagine in any contemporary country.” The regime does what it wants, and the population puts up with it. And this has “nothing to do with Crimea or to ‘rising from one’s knees’ or to anything else which might be considered an element of ‘social agreement.’”
“Can such a situation be stable?” he asks. “Yes, but can it be eternal? Hardly.”
The Kremlin’s use of force “over the voiceless society not only creates within it tensions invisible to the hierarchy but deprive the powers that be of the real opportunity to retreat or trade when such things are required.” Thus, Inozemtsev says, the situation now “does not look as stable and predictable” as it was in 2010 or even 2013.”
“The political ‘dividing lines’” have as a result become “’ours-alien,’ ‘friend’-‘enemy’,’ ‘patriot-traitor,’” and those do not permit any compromise by the regime or, if it becomes active, the population.
And that in turn means, the Moscow economist concludes, that “a new configuration will not involve the departure of the president in any specific perspective: Russia, [instead,] is in the position of Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, with only this difference, the issue of who will be the new leader may not arise for a decade or two.”