Staunton, May 8 – There is an old saying that in a democracy, everything that isn’t prohibited is permitted; in an authoritarian one, everything that isn’t permitted is prohibited; and in a totalitarian one, everything that is permitted is compulsory. But as in so many other ways, Putin has produced a hybrid between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, Karina Orlova argues.
The Moscow journalist notes that the police detained every fifth participant in the demonstrations on Saturday, a figure that clearly indicates where the Putin regime is headed: “those who disagree will be persecuted still more senselessly and mercilessly than before, repressions will become harsher, increase in number and become still more senseless” (echo.msk.ru/blog/karina_orlova/2198484-echo/).
In Russia, Orlova continues, “a regime of state illegality has finally been established.” It has two elements. On the one hand, “citizens never know which law however illegal it may be they are violating: this allows the powers to hold people in constant fear and to act in any way even in the limits of the permissible.”
Thus, Russians find themselves in a regime where everything is permitted and nothing depending on what Putin and his associates decide at any one time, a situation that is far worse than democracy or even authoritarianism even if it cannot be precisely characterized as totalitarian.
And on the other hand, in this brave new world, “the organs of executive power no longer need even a formal reason for persecution and repression.” That is a major change even from a few years ago when a case had to be presented, even if the elements of it were entirely invented and absurd. Now, even that is not required.
Moreover, Orlova points out, the authorities’ use of the pseudo-Cossacks means that whatever rules may govern the police, the authorities now want to make clear that they will use people against demonstrators and others who by definition follow now rules except what they can get away with.
There have been two other indications this week of the kind of regime Putin’s is rapidly turning into. One involved his own inaugural ceremony; the other, the increasing recognition in the West that his regime is nothing but a criminal kleptocracy concerned only about wealth and using power to get it however repressive it has to be.
This time around, Putin organized his swearing in without any of the trappings of contact with the people that he had employed in all of his previous inaugurals. He didn’t travel through the city and kept apart from the people not only in practice but symbolically, Orlova says. Putin has clearly broken with the people he is now oppressing.
“Physical closeness to the people forces officials and politicians to feel direct responsibility for their actions,” the journalist says. “Putin does not feel any responsibility because physically he is isolated from the crowd which can be very terrible. Moreover, before his eyes are the pictures of the last minutes of Saddam Husseyn and Qaddafi.”
This is leading Putin to transform Russia “into a mix of Turkmenistan, Venezuela and North Korea,” Orlova says; and the West can see this more clearly than ever before. This week, in the second development, some in Washington are making it clear that Russia under Putin is “an ordinary kleptocracy” and must be punished with more sanctions.
People in the West now see that “the single idea of the Putin regime is personal enrichment” and that “everything else are methods and means of incarnating this not especially clever idea into life,” the journalist says. Consequently, the West is focusing on that aspect of Putin’s regime not least of all because he and his minions keep their wealth abroad where it is safer than in Russia itself.
These things do not presage a good future for Russia. Instead, the next six years are almost certain to be among the most horrific ever.