Staunton, January 2 -- Given the challenges and constraints he faces, Valery Solovey says, Vladimir Putin will seek to carry out “a Stalinist modernization in a vegetarian version,” that is, to rely on Russia’s own resources alone but to do so without the mass repression and bloodshed its namesake used.
In an interview with the Fontanka news agency, the MGIMO historian says that Putin is moving in that direction both because of three challenges he faces from the population and elites and because of the impossibility of making the kind of concessions that would be necessary to get credits from the West (fontanka.ru/2018/01/02/027/).
The immediate challenges Putin faces are three, Solovey suggests. First, protests by the population have increased by two-thirds compared to a year ago; and pro-Kremlin experts are now predicting that there will be another sharp increase in their number “after the presidential elections.” Putin wants to avoid that because of the unpredictability in such a case.
Second, the incomes of Russians have fallen for the fourth year in a row with no basis to think that the situation is improving or will anytime soon. A decline that long in incomes did not happen “even in the 1990s, the period with which Russians “love to compare our current stability to.”
And third, there is “the specter of a political crisis” which involves the desire of society for change. “For the first time in the last 25 to 26 years in Russia, the demand for changes exceeds the demand for stability” and that pattern holds “in all socio-demographic groups. The last time that was true was in 1990-1991.”
The Kremlin sees all this perfectly well, Solovey says. “It hopes that the situation will improve and seeks a path for that. But without political changes.” Any compromise with the West is excluded because Putin views that as “a sign of weakness” and he and his regime believe the West is seeking to overthrow him and his regime.
According to the MGIMO professor, Putin does not want “to remain forever” and “everything will be decided” well before the next presidential elections now scheduled for 2024. In his next term, Solovey says, Putin will vacillate between “two lines,” giving people more freedom and engaging in modest amount of repression.
That fits with the current constellation of forces, Solovey says; but “such vacillation is the worst thing of all from the point of view of the stability of the powers that be.” They tend to behave in this way when the administrative capacity declines, something that everyone sees and many now talk about in Russia.
“At all levels, the country is being administered worse than it was. This is a broad administrative crisis produced as a natural process of degradation as the result of the reduction of resources and the crisis of the former administrative model,” the analyst continues. Earlier, the regime has the money to buy loyalty and access to Western credits.
Now, it no longer has the money to buy loyalty, and it is precluded from getting credits from the West. As a result, it will move toward a policy of “Stalinist modernization,” of reliance of Russia’s own resources, but without the level of repression and violence that characterized Stalin’s rule.
Solovey concludes by observing that “the Putin system” will not outlive its creator and namesake. Once he goes, it will begin to be disassembled just as Stalin’s one. That may take a moderate form or it may be the result of more serious moves. “One need not exaggerate,” however, “this will not be a catastrophe,” he says.
By which he means, Russia “won’t disappear, but serious changes will inevitably occur.”