At the present time, Pastukhov says, Russia “is living in a regime of preparation for war.” More than that, he continues, “we really are living in a regime of a declared war with the US and the West. This for me is perfectly obvious. And this is hardly some hybrid war but a completely normal one,” he adds.
“Simply this is a post-modernist war, one where the left hand fights while the right gives the impression that nothing is taking pace. But in reality, we really live in a regime of wartime,” the historian continues.
According to Pastukhov, the Russian powers that be are ‘acting in a state of a certain hysteria because they now are reaping the consequences of the steps which they made earlier, which at the time seemed to them very wise and sensible and which allowed them for four or five years to retain the idiot governors [they had installed] in their places.”
The Russian rulers are playing chess like amateurs, thinking only two or three moves ahead, and not like “serious” players who think many more than that. In 2011-2012, a revolutionary situation existed in Russia which threatened to get out of hand. Those in power decided to take two steps to prevent that.
On the one hand, Vladimir Putin returned to power in place of Dmitry Medvedev who wasn’t satisfying the elites. And on the other, Putin decided to win points by “kicking ass” abroad in this case with the Ukrainian “war” in order to demonstrate his opposition to any Russian following of the European trend there.
The Kremlin leader used this as a clever means of mobilization and uniting the people against a common enemy, Pastukhov says. But having taken this step, Russians are now in a position where they must “pay” for it. Since that time, everything has been following exactly the same logic.
The historian says that he hopes the Russian elite will turn away from the idea of going to war, but he suggests that “unfortunately,” he doesn’t believe that is likely because “the inertia is very great, and the militarization of consciousness and of all sides of the life of Russian society are going forward with gigantic steps.”
That suggests in turn that the next step will be “much more serious” that just cutting out the deadwood in the power vertical as now and will involve another “small victorious war” toward either Belarus or Kazakhstan. Ukraine is out because the West has taken steps to preclude this.
Any “further advance in this direction,” Pastukhov argues, “is fraught with the risk of instantly landing in a very big conflict for which as the incident with the Russian Il-20 in Syria showed, we in fact are not very prepared.” Russia can fight with armies like those of Georgia and Ukraine but not with a modern power. And because it has a nuclear arsenal, Russia can avoid fighting with anyone.
“No one wants war, but no one wants to lose power either,” the historian says. “Unfortunately, these two ideas are beginning to come ever more into conflict with each other.” The Russian elite cannot retain its property unless it can retain its political power and it cannot do that without a conflict to distract other Russians from the increasing income inequality there.
And because people can only be mobilized for so long by any particular goal, the powers that be have to keep raising the stakes and thus the size of the enemy to be challenged, Pastukhov says. “Do the Russian and Kremlin elites want war? Undoubtedly, no. But can they hold power without it? Also, no.”
Which will win out in this contest – “greed or stupidity” – Pastukhov says is something he cannot say for certain; but the logic of what has been going on both over the past six years and of what is happening now in Russia is far from encouraging.