Staunton, November 5 – With relatively few victims, the Putin regime has sparked fear throughout the Russian political elite, leaving it atomized and making it easier to control but also making it “impossible to mobilize for the achievement of any project, be it conservative or liberal,” Nikolay Petrov argues.
In this regard, the Moscow commentator continues, Putin’s targeted repressions fill the same role Stalin’s broader ones did in the 1930s: they instill fear throughout the political elite that the Kremlin leader can act as he pleases and that no one is secure from being cast into the darkness regardless of how he behaves (carnegie.ru/commentary/73574).
What has been taking place over the last three years, Petrov continues, “is not simply a radical renewal of cadres in the framework of the same system but rather a radical change of the system itself.” The dramatic increase in the number of regional heads who have been replaced and even threatened with compromising information and prison is striking evidence of that.
As a result of Putin’s personnel changes, “the very meaning of regional elites has changed. If earlier in the 1990s, one could speak about” imposing greater control on people who had some independent power base, now that is impossible: they have been deprived of any independence at all.
That is true in Moscow as well, Petrov suggests. “Political elites are not those who are better than the rest. They are those who are more influential,” either because of their closeness to the throne or their useful to the man in power.
“Under conditions of aristocracy, it is defined by ancestors; under a meritocracy, by personal services to the powers and society; and in a nomenklatura system by utility in the eyes of the bosses above,” Petrov says. The Soviet system was a nomenklatura one. The post-Soviet system is a combination of the meritocratic and nomenklatura varieties.
Such a “hybrid” system by its nature is “not very stable, and beginning in 2012, the development [of the Putin system] has moved consistently toward an intensification of the nomenklatura aspects. This has been promoted by a sharp increase in pressure on elites under the slogans of the struggle with corruption.”
A nomenklatura elite lacks independence and is based on loyalty rather than talent. In it, Petrov says, “there is no place for individual legitimacy.” Thus, the end of mayoral elections and the rapid replacement of governors is “not something excessive but the main content and essence of political development of recent times.”
“Repressions with regard to the nomenklatura elite,” Petrov says, “have a systemic character and those who fall under them” may be quite similar to those who don’t, thus creating the insecurity and fear that is the basis of such systems. This supports the system for a time, but it also creates serious problems for the future.
“In other words,” the Russian analyst continues, “the old rules in fact do not work, but what the new ones are is unknown. As a result, the ability of the nomenklatura elites to act is paralyzed. Nomenklatura privileges so recently viewed as an absolute good” have turned out to be contingent and at risk of disappearing instantly.
This “growing repressiveness of the regime is a very important moment which marks the shift from soft to harsh authoritarianism with elements of totalitarianism as well,” Petrov concludes. This in fact constitutes “a growing evolution” or even “transformation” of what people have known as the Putin regime.
The number of victims is not important; their apparent randomness is, the commentator suggests. “The repressions one sees now are not so massive” as they were in Stalin’s times, but “in our information age, they fulfill the very same role” that those carried out by the Soviet dictator did.
Even those who are the new oprichniks, just like those in Stalin’s time, cannot be sure that they will not become victims as well, Petrov says. “An atomization” of these groups is taking place, leaving the elites like a pyramid of wet sand which requires continuing repressions to prevent it from dissolving.
The fears that this has spread have “paralyzed the will and ability of elites to resist,” but it has also reduced their ability to be mobilized for anything as well unless it is put in motion by further repressions as “a single machine.”
Petrov sums up his argument this way: “It is easier to control an atomized, semi-paralyzed from fear nomenklatura elite, but it is impossible to mobilize it for the realization of any project, conservative or liberal. Therefore, after the presidential elections, the system will change” because “it won’t be able not to change whether it wants this or not.”