Staunton, September 21 – The Kremlin’s de-monopolization of force, a step forced upon it by the breakdown of its two previous chief supports, is creating a situation which threatens the regime itself, according to Yulia Latynina, a Russian commentator recently forced to move abroad as a result of violence directed against her person.
Since the murder of Boris Nemtsov in February 2015, “quasi-state force has flooded Russia,” she says. Most of those who carried out such attacks remained unpunished even if the evidence against them was overwhelming (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/09/19/73893-yuliya-latynina-kreml-vstal-na-put-yanukovicha-i-maduro).
The Russian economy remains monopolized by the state: 65 percent of it is in the hands of the government. But “instead of de-monopolizing the economy,” Latynina continues, “the Kremlin has de-monopolized its control of the means of force.” Why did that happen now? she asks rhetorically. “Because all its remaining arguments [on its behalf] had failed.”
“Until 2014,” she says, the Putin regime relied on two things to legitimate itself: oil dollars which allowed it to buy off almost everyone, and television which delivered its message and which almost everyone watched. Those who weren’t bought off or who didn’t watch TV were not numerous enough to worry about.
In that year, “the oil dollars ran out,” Latynina continues. “Formally, they ended after Crimea,” but she says that she believes that “Crimea was a preventive strike. Patriotism was supposed to replace the oil dollars” in maintaining the loyalty and support of the Russian population.
But remarkably quickly, television, the chief propaganda arm of the Kremlin, began to lose its ability to define the situation, with ever more people turning away from it to YouTube, Facebook and VKontakte. Moreover, the average age of those watching television has continued to climb: it is now 63.
Any authoritarian regime has two primary resources: the lie and force, Latynina points out. “When the lie ends, force begins,” and one should not ever suggest that it will be ineffective. In fact, history shows that it can be extremely effective if it is used with sophistication and care.
But at some point, “the effectiveness of force falls because it has been delegated to para-state structures,” she suggests. The reason that states like Putin’s do that is because they want to have plausible or even implausible deniability, the ability to insist that they were not involved even when everyone knows they are.
Ending the state’s monopoly on the use of force, however, entails “other problems.” One is that “in a contemporary state, those bearers of de-monopolized force are primarily the lumpen” because “no one, except the lumpen, dreams about a career as a street thug” and only rarely do they have such a career opportunity opened for them.
But Putin’s war in the Donbass gave the lumpen a remarkable opportunity. Many Russian lumpen flocked there because “what had earlier been considered a crime was now considered an act of glory.” The same thing holds for other nominally privatized uses of force in Russia.
“When these lumpen receive the chance to engage in force, then the elites begin to feel very uncomfortable -- and that goes for any elites including the financial, governmental and siloviki.” That is the first thing that happens as a result of the de-monopolization of the use of force and it is no small one.
The second result is that no one ever commits an act of violence for someone else. People engage in violence “always for themselves,” Latynina says; and as a result, “the de-monopolization of the force strengthen the position not of the Kremlin but of those who engage in such force.” Thus, “Chechnya is not the exception: it is the rule.”
And it is the height of naivete to think that “any of the enthusiasts of present-day force want to serve the Kremlin. Each of them with the help of force wants to strengthen his own position.”
A third thing about lumpen-driven force is that it is “especially effective when it is applied in the name of the Big Lie, God, races, the Bright Future, when people are prepared not only to kill but to die,” and that opens the way to the spread of radical ideologies which may in the minds of some justify such a sacrifice.
And finally, the Russian commentator says, there is one other aspect of this situation which must trouble the powers that be: any use of force “typically gives rise to a counterforce. Yanukovich fell not when he began to shoot at the peaceful people but when the people began to shoot back.”
With regard to this factor, Latynina concludes, recent figures “aren’t in the favor of the Kremlin.” In Omsk last week, 20 people came out to demonstrate against Mathilda, but 7,000 assembled to back opposition presidential candidate Aleksey Navalny.