Staunton, December 29 – Vladimir Putin’s “post-modern” system is “the highest and last stage of post-communist neo-imperialism,” one that consists of contradictory elements held together only by himself but like the reign of Nicholas I has the capacity to last far longer than many think, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.
On the one hand, the St. Antony’s College historian says, Putin’s “political system has historically exhausted itself.” But on the other, “in full correspondence with the laws of dialectics, the flourishing of this system is at the same time the culmination of the battles of the past and the prologue for those of the future” (republic.ru/posts/77901).
At present, Pastukhov continues, these two forces are in balance and maintained that way by Putin and his actions, but precisely because both are present, the system may be stable for a lengthy period but is fundamentally unstable in the middle and longer term, with sharp changes of direction likely after the Kremlin leader’s time.
According to the St. Antony’s analyst, Russia in 2016 passed almost unnoticed from one political era to another, to a time when “nothing historically significant will occur and in principle should not occur.” Qualitative changes are excluded; only quantitative ones that will build up pressures over time.
“In such a state,” he says, “the system may remain for a very long time. In this sense, indeed, the Putin post-modern world resembles ‘the bad apartment’ in Bulgarkov’s novel where time stops” and the residents decide not to risk any change, an arrangement that could last “for several generations” until its contradictions make its survival impossible.
“If you like,” Pastukhov continues, “there is no more precise historical analogy for contemporary Russia than with ‘Nicholaevan Russia,’ meaning of course, that of Nicholas I and not that of Nicholas II.” It lasted a long time but then saw its basic features swept away by its successor.
At present, he argues, Putin can entirely reasonably repeat the words of Nicholas I’s Count Benkendorf that “the past of Rsusia was glorious, its present more than wonderful, and as concerns its future, it will exceed all imagining.”
“The authoritarian political regime established in Russia is not directly threatened by anything, either from the inside the country or from the outside.” And for Putin “at the present moment,” there is nothing he cannot do, from “declaring Russia a monarchy” to invading more countries.
However, Pastukhov continues, there are two trends, the worsening of the economy and the degradation of the bureaucracy, which mean that his “prospects become less bright when we shift attention from immediate threats to indirect and more distant ones” even though neither the one nor the other can lead to any revolution by themselves.
They simply create “a general negative political background,” one that is not a threat as long as the Kremlin ignores it. But, Pastukhov says, “the powers that be are psychologically not ready to take that risk and are seeking to respond in order to prevent something.” And such responses may “create the greatest threat to the stability of the regime.”
One can understand this by considering an analogy with the body’s immune system. If the immune system doesn’t work properly, it is entirely possible that it will “create more problems for the organism than the infection itself.” And that is exactly what appears to be happening in Putin’s Russia.
“The powers that be are now like a fighter who, having put all his opponents on the floor, in his loneliness struggles with himself.” As a result, he is like “a two-faced Janus, at one and the same time a preserver and a revolutionary,” a pattern that shows that “Russia today is living through a transitional era” in which the old and the new coexist.
It is important to note, Pastukhov continues, that “the line of the front between the new and the old hardly passes along the dividing line of ‘the authorities and the opposition (system or extra-systemic). Very often,” he writes, “both the authorities and the opposition in equal measure embody the old world, just as Dovlatov’s ‘communists’ and ‘anti-communists’ do.”
Despite what many think, “Putin has more serious ambitions than the simple desire to remain in power as long as possible … he wants to make the regime he has created politically immortal, to secure continuity of policy in the case of his departure from power, and to ensure himself and his clan from political risks for a long time to come.”
“For that,” Pastukhov says, Putin needs more than the signing of “the latest political marriage contract with the voters: he needs a marriage with Russia based on love.” And that goal means that he has begun “a completely different game.”
In it, Putin wants to use all the advantages he gained from “the mobilization policy born in the counterrevolution of 2013-2014” and at the same time escape from “the limitations which the mobilization agenda imposed on the activity of his administration.”
Thus, Putin “wants to lower the amount of confrontation with the West to a comfortable level and restore dialogue with the elites. As before, he intends to completely control society with the help of a most powerful repressive apparatus, but at the same time, he wants to present society as his ‘partner’” that backs what he is doing.
In short, his current agenda is to “broaden the social base of the regime by recovering the loyalty of ‘the educated class.’” This gives his policies an “eclectic” pattern. On the one hand, he continues to “tighten the screws.” On the other, he presents the prospect of a thaw in relations between the government and the population.
For the present, Putin is “the pin” that holds this all together. His goal is to institutionalize that, and it is going to be some time before anyone can say whether he will succeed or whether the pieces so tightly “pinned” together will not come apart when he leaves the scene.