Staunton, April 10 – The expanded US sanctions regime is based on the same assumption that the West made after the beginning of the economic crisis in Russia four years ago, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, the belief that economic hardship will lead some in the elite to oppose Vladimir Putin and divide the population from Putin and his regime.
But such calculations, the paper says in a lead article today, fail “to take into consideration the political realities and nuances of relations of society and business with the powers that be in the Russian Federation” and to see that “economic problems only strengthen” the latter (ng.ru/editorial/2018-04-10/2_7208_red.html).
The new sanctions against big business in Russia, they continue, “theoretically could have a two-stage impact on the Russian political system. The first step would be a split between the powers that be and business. [But] the authorities can stop this split by one way or another compensating the entrepreneurs for losses abroad by preferences at home.”
And the second would then be that by helping “the suffering ‘oligarchs’” even as it fails to do anything about the suffering of the majority, the Kremlin would be confronted by “growing social dissatisfaction.” But “for this logic to work, there would have to be widespread dissemination of specific examples of political thinking and action.”
Unfortunately for those imposing the sanctions, Nezavisimaya gazeta says, “in Rusisan society such views are insufficiently disseminated. Citizens are more than willing to accept the authorities’ picture of the world in which any problem is the result of the actions of Western enemies who are frightened by Russia’s rise and its prospects.”
“In other words,” the editors say, “difficulties strengthen the position of the ruling elite and not the other way around.” They add that it is likely the American leaders “understand this and that in introducing new sanctions, they are only following the demand of which is concerned about ‘the Russian threat.’”
The newspaper’s conclusion is at odds with many articles that have appeared in the last few days which are predicting both a falling away by the oligarchs from Putin and hostility among the Russian people for the oligarchs and the authorities who seem more than ready to help the richest even as they do little or nothing to help the population.
But it is a useful reminder of the continuities in Russian culture that mean those who are part of it behave differently than would other peoples. At the same time, however, the history of that culture teaches that while Russians may put up with more than others, at some point they will snap and behave more radically than anyone else.