Staunton, April 19 – Efforts by Moscow to block the Telegram messenger system may very well succeed technically, Vladimir Pastukhov says; but they highlight a more serious political problem: the Kremlin, by attacking something that millions use instead of going after a small group of liberal opponents, is making enemies for itself it doesn’t need.
And that suggests, he said yesterday on the Personally Yours program of Ekho Moskvy, that the Kremlin for all its much-ballyhooed calculations is beginning to lose the sense of what it must do to preserve its power and control and, what is especially important to it, its source of wealth (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalnovash/2186042-echo/).
Putin and his regime are “really trying to construct their ideal Russia, one cut off from the entire world, something like China,” Pastukhov says. But they are trying to do that in a country “without Chinese discipline and without Chinese consciousness.” As a result, their chances are less and they will make far more people angry.
But the London-based Russian historian says that he is a pessimist and thinks the Kremlin may be able to get away with this despite the anger doing so will cause. “In the final analysis, despite everything, the state will win if it wants to. It may retreat politically,” he says; but the Chinese model shows what is possible.
To succeed, Pastukhov continues, it will have to decide on “the complete destruction of the Runet, its reformatting, and n general, its conversion into an analogue of the Chinese internet,” something that will cost the regime and the country a lot. But those in power may view it as a way of keeping power and that is more important than anything else.
However, if one considers this move politically, one comes to a very distressing conclusion, he says. He offers the old Soviet anecdote about two killers who wait for their target to show up. When he is late, one of them says, “Listen, I’m beginning to get nervous – something may have happened to him.”
Pastukhov says that now he too is “beginning to get nervous” because “the Kremlin is losing a little of its instinct for self-preservation … it has gotten carried away. Before this, its repressive machine focused on a quite small stratum of Europeanized Russians” who small number and interests meant that the powers could easily ignore them.
But “now these actions with Telegram are important because they are beginning to touch the vital interests of a large mass of people. And for this reason, such actions will have serious consequences. Not freedom [of course] but the dissatisfaction of millions.” And in any political system that matters even if all it does is increase demands for repression.
In the course of a long interview, Pastukhov makes a number of other observations. Among the most important are these:
· “Betting on Trump was one of the most serious foreign policy mistakes of the Kremlin,” although he says he is “not inclined to overrate the contribution of the Kremlin in this case: Trump won for domestic reasons,” and if the Kremlin did help, then it didn’t determine the outcome.
· All political systems have to have a division of powers lest the person on top become controlled by his creation. That division, of course, “need not exist in a democratic form.” It can take the form of dividing up quite frequently the security agencies so that no one of them will trap the leader.
· “Russia is a country whose mentality has not overcome mythological consciousness … Unfortunately, we have not passed that serious school of positivist thinking which Europe beginning with the 19th century did when fact and imagination came to be viewed as separate” and distinct things.
· “From the point of view of the West, Russia really looks like an international spoiler of all legal institutions. But this still does not touch the fundamental interests of the elites which rule in Russia.” The West’s actions against Rusal show what could be done, but “it is possible that this will remain only a demonstration” of the West’s abilities, not a new policy direction.