Staunton, December 14 – Many who ask what Vladimir Putin will do in his next term act as if he is all-powerful, Gleb Pavlovsky says; but in fact, the system of power he has constructed, one based on “a symbiosis of three classes of political elements,” simultaneously ensures continued struggles in the Kremlin and imposes restrictions on what Putin can seek and achieve.
Responding to a New Times request for comment on Putin’s future course of action, the Moscow commentator says that the question arises from a view that “Putin is an irresistible natural phenomenon like the fall of a meteorite or the eruption of a volcano on Bali” (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/134445).
“If I were dictator,” Pavlovsky continues, “I couldn’t dream about a more pleasant way of having such questions asked” because put in this way, they assume that what happens is a reflection of “the personal will of one single individual in the Kremlin.” But in fact what will occur reflects the nature of the Kremlin and not simply the individual who arranged it so far.
“The Kremlin,” he says, “is a symbiosis of three classes of political elements” both mutually supportive and competitive, including the so-called siloviki, senior officials of the government and presidential administration, and, the most important point of this “triangle,” “the friends of the president, the nucleus of his closest circle.”
Yes, it is possible to imagine that Putin can try to do something that would bypass all of these groups, “but for this he would have every time to engage in a complex palace intrigue” and his authority “long ago passed into the hands of those against whom he would be carrying out such intrigues.”
Theoretically, Pavlovsky says, Putin could do many things. He could fire the prime minister and install himself in his place. But every such move would generate opposition from one or more parts of the triangle and such opposition would have to be dealt with by the leader, sometimes with success and sometimes not.
Increasingly it is becoming the case that “Putin simply will not be able to undertake anything which hurts the interests of one of the palace classes. He won’t order anything that the palace would not begin to sabotage. He is not even able to seriously change the balance within the court.”
That “balance,” Piontkovsky says, is in reality “the carcass of forces which support the president, surround him, and act in his name without allowing things to go beyond well-known limits.” And Putin personally even though he created this system is now constrained by it because to move against it is to threaten the instability he and it most fear.
Of course, he will make certain reforms. Some of them may succeed, but most will fail because they will challenge the interests of one of the groups or even individuals within the power triangle. And if he goes too far, Putin will only undermine himself and bring the end of his system ever closer.
Changes in foreign policy are “inevitable,” Pavlovsky continues, because “international reaction to the excesses of his third term go according to the law of the compass. The aggressive phase of Moscow policy will be replaced by a defensive one and therefore initiative will pass to the opponents” of what was done earlier.
Domestically, many groups need liberalization; “but on the whole the rapidly politicizing Russia needs only a more open politics.” Putin will likely be one of the players in this process, but he is one among many rather than the only one who matters. Consequently, “don’t expect ‘stagnation.’”
Rather, Pavlovsky concludes, “fasten your seatbelts if you want to remain spectators” of the Kremlin games.