Sunday, January 1, 2017

‘Better than Nothing’ – How Putin Regime is Trying to Respond to Changes in Russian Society

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 1 – Ekaterina Schulmann says that in contrast to democratic systems, the current Russians adapt to social changes before elections begin and make mid-course corrections before campaigns begin, an arrangement that she says is less adequate than the democratic process but that it is “better than nothing.”

            In a commentary for the portal which she has posted on her Facebook page as well, the Moscow analyst argues that all the activities of the Presidential Administration now, including the drafting of new programs are “attempts at correcting things before the elections” (,

            What will emerge from all this activity, of course, is “a big question because the system can be changed only as much as it can,” Schulmann writes. “It cannot reform itself” in a profound send because it exists as a certain kind of organization. But “all the same, the agenda for 2017” is currently subject to “an attempt at correction” to win more support.

            But for all the talk, there is a real question about how far the Kremlin can go.  It can’t simply change course in a major sector because “there are interest groups with corresponding budgets who are interested” in particular policies, such as “an extension of ‘the policy of war,’” Schulmann argues.

            These include “powerful members of our ruling elite – the military industrial complex, the defense ministry and the members of the Security Council. To say: ‘that’s it guys, forgive us but we are changing direction’ isn’t going to happen” instantly. For it to happen at all, these plays must be compensated with something. How to do that is a major issue for the year ahead.

            One place where the Presidential Administration has been forced to try to find a new approach concerns education and health care, areas where “a very dangerous, even radical break between the agenda of those in power and the agenda of society is in evidence,” the Moscow analyst says.

            For people, she writes, these issues are “becoming ever more important first because the population is aging … and second because of the cult of children that has been developing in recent years and the view by people of their parental role as a social one and even partially as a political one as well.”

            At the same time, the government is cutting back its spending in these areas, creating a situation that it is difficult to imagine a more unhappy conjunction.  Clearly, something needs to be done because people are angry and “do not understand why the state is acting in the way that it is,” especially since the government hasn’t explained why.

            Of course, there is the argument that there is no money, an argument that represents a kind of return to the situation that existed in the 1990s.  But at the same time, now the government is in full control of educational and health care institutions, so it has to support them or its inability to do so will be on full display.

            The Kremlin could decide to privatize some of these institutions or hand them over to NGOs, but for that to happen, Schulmann points out, the regime would have to “liberalize” the situation in these sectors, something very difficult because “control, supervision and repression are the bread of powerful people in authority.”

            They won’t want to lose any of their powers, and so doing anything about this will not be simple or easy.

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