Staunton, August 29 – The Russian government machine is becoming ever more repressive, Sergey Shelin says; “but the voices of those who protest, including some who had been in the nomenklatura have also become louder,” exactly the reverse of what the Kremlin hopes for and an indication that Russia is moving into an entirely new period.
The willingness of ever more people to protest at show trials and Kafkaesque behavior has the effect of “destroying the illusion of the legality of what is going one” and thus undermining its power to intimidate the population, a power the authorities have long relied upon (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/08/25/1641358.html).
Shelin says that he will not venture “to predict how this contradiction will be resolved, but a new page in the history of repression in the fatherland is already being written.” And he inventories some of the most prominent cases of repression and the way these are now being opposed to make his case.
Although he does not make a prediction, there are precedents in Russian history and more generally for what this development is likely to presage. Either the authorities will be compelled to try to suppress opposition by even more authoritarian means or they will face a situation in which each new act of repression will weaken rather than strengthen them.
At the end of Soviet times, it was often remarked that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone who was fighting a grease fire with small amounts of water. Instead of dousing opposition, he was simply causing it to spread and thus intensify. Shelin’s analysis suggests that Russia is again at the same point, but Putin isn’t Gorbachev.
And that in turn raises some more serious questions: Is Putin about to intensify repression still further? Could he do so without wrecking the country? Or is he going to have to change course, cutting back on at least some kinds of repression in the hopes of reducing opposition as well?