Staunton, March 15 – Vladimir Putin’s regime is so at odds with those of a normal state, even of the most authoritarian kind, that Russian analysts are reaching beyond their usual suggestions that he is restoring Stalinism without socialism to suggest that his Russia is a mafia state, a second North Korea or even a Muscovy Version 3.0.
None of these captures the entire essence of Putin and Putinism, but taken together, they provide a portrait of a regime in trouble as result of its leader’s own actions and are thus suggestive of more fruitful lines of investigation than are often employed by those who can’t imagine how different Putin’s Russia is not only from other states but from what he says it is.
Exiled opposition leader Gari Kasparov says bluntly: “Putin’s Russia is already not a state in the normal understanding of this word but rather a mafia structure … that has now gone beyond the borders of Russia and become a global source of threat to the system of international security” (ehorussia.com/new/node/15926).
“Now,” he continues, “when under the pressure of circumstances, the West is slowly but consistently approaching a recognition of the genuine essence of Putinism, Kremlin political technologists are feverishly seeking ways to convince foreign leaders that Russia is a normal state with which, despite certain of its ‘peculiarities,’ one can deal.”
No one should help the Kremlin do that, and that means, Kasparov argues, that no Russian should take part in Sunday’s farcical “presidential elections.”
Moscow commentator Nikita Isayev offers a second way of viewing what Putin has done and is doing to Russia. According to him, Moscow has “moved toward the path of North Korea, waving its nuclear club right and left.” It has even reminded everyone in the wake of the Skripal case that “Russia is a nuclear power” (newizv.ru/article/general/15-03-2018/vopros-dnya-prevratitsya-li-rossiya-v-severnuyu-koreyu).
Russians should reflect on what North Korea has achieved for itself “the total isolation of the state from the external world” and “a complete embargo on the part of the majority of developed countries.” Despite what many assume, Russia could if it continues on its current course find itself in the same situation, a North Korea - 2.
The international community is well aware that Russia’s economy can’t survive in complete isolation from the rest of the world. It wouldn’t be able to sell its oil, gas or grain. It wouldn’t be able to import the technologies on which it increasingly relies. And its only export could soon be reduced to raw wood materials to China.
The Moscow media, reflecting the hopes of the Kremlin, insists that an embargo wouldn’t be that bad. But in fact, if it approached totality, it would be a disaster for the economy as a whole, and Russians would have occasion to learn again about goods shortages, waiting in line and rationing.
“A car would again become a luxury and not a means of transportation,” companies would face collapse, “and the incomes of the population would fall sharply. Life would not stop but its quality, not to mention its comforts would fall to a level about which the majority of people haven’t heard or don’t remember.”
The third metaphor for Putin’s Russia, Muscovy Version 3.0, is offered by St. Petersburg scholar Andrey Zaostrovtsev who argues that in many respects “the USSR was nothing other than a traditional society of a contemporary type” – what he has called “Muscovy Version 2.0” (fontanka.ru/2018/03/12/040/).
That system held back “the penetration of the institutions of Western civilization for approximately 70 years,” including such things as private property, a market, the supremacy of law and representative government and to a surprising degree reproduced a society resembling that of the 16th to 17th centuries.”
It appeared after 1991 that Russia had broken from that, but “at the very beginning of the 21st century,” specifically with the YUKOS case, that trend stopped and there was “at the same time a turning in the direction of the construction of Muscovy Version 3.0, Zaostrovtsev continues.
A service state has been restored with possession contingent on the state rather than being a reflection of the right of private property. Moreover, such a system “is not in the slightest degree combined with the supremacy of law nor with representative government … Everything depends on the will of the supreme leader.”
In Putin’s Russia, private property is marginal and includes only apartments, dachas and cars. Those are truly “’the holy trinity’” for Russians. But the scholar says that now he is not certain that the state is going to leave those alone either given its renovation plans and its drive to find resources as money runs out.
In such a situation, the individual has his personal “’sovereignty’” taken away from him. “He belongs” not to himself but “to the whole” as defined by the supreme ruler. But at the same time and as was the case in Muscovy Versions 1 and 2, most of the population is not demanding their inalienable rights. Instead, Russians are “delegating all their rights to the Leviathan.”
This is not something many Westerners understand because they cannot imagine a country with nuclear weapons having a social and political system which more fully reflects a medieval reality than a modern one; but unless more do, they will continue to misread Russia and the costs for both them and Russia will be very high indeed.