First of all, Putin is convinced that the Russian population is “not a people but an amorphous mass that has along ago ceased to feel its own status as a subject of politics. And he is right if one compares the moves against the pension reform with the events in France in 1995.” Consequently, “popularity ratings mean nothing” for the Kremlin leader.
Second, Inozemtsev continues, Putin clearly is hoping for a miracle of the kind that he has often benefited from. He doesn’t have any ideas or plans for addressing the situation and so he pays visits to his spiritual advisor rather than convening experts who might be able to give him good advice.
Third, Putin is under the spell of the so-called “methodologists headed by Sergey Kiriyenko” who engage in role playing, suggesting that one first considers how one got into a crisis and then how one gets out. “We are today observing the first phase of that process, and for the time being it looks to be under control,” with any “real crisis still far away.”
Fourth, Putin clearly recognizes that foreign pressure is about at its limits. “The West does not see any reason to sacrifice its interests in order to undermine the stability of [his] regime,” especially given opposition in the population to doing so. Consequently, Putin doesn’t expect any new radical moves, like the exclusion of Russia from SWIFT or an embargo.
And fifth, Putin understands perfectly well that “for him now, the main threat comes not from his subjects but from the bureaucracy,” which continues to insist on being “’paid for loyalty’” however little money there may be in the system, something that requires that he continue to extract ever more funds from the population.
All these factors mean that Putin will try to stay the course, something he is likely to be able to do because while things will get worse according to various measures, Inozemtsev says, there is no clear indication that the country is moving toward “any revolutionary changes” that would threaten Putin’s rule.
The Russian economist argues that the system Putin has established is unlikely to collapse in the immediate future. “On the one hand, the economy has shown itself to be much more stable than many expected.” And “on the other, we live in a state which has been seized by a mafia who have no path back to normalcy.” They will thus keep together to resist to the end.
Consequently, “Putin’s obvious calm relative to the situation both in the country and int eh world has several bases and not one of them can be considered without foundation.” His regime thus has “a sufficiently firm” basis to at least make it “extremely probable” that its creator will be able to remain in power for his lifetime.
But what will this mean for Russia? Inozemtsev asks rhetorically. Many are focusing on the possibility that it will break up or at least lose significant territories, but according to the economist, people should be focusing their attention elsewhere, both to underlying problems and the nature of elite succession in Russia historically.
At present, he says, the Putin elite is in a position to guarantee its survival for quite a long time, but that does not mean that its successors will want or be able to keep that system in place. Instead, as Russian history repeatedly shows, its members are likely to shift in a radically different direction to try to address the problems their predecessors have left this.
Such a shift can happen with amazing speed, Inozemtsev says. “How much time passed between that of the first Crimean War and the Great Reforms? From ‘the doctors’ plot’ to Khrushchev’s thaw? Or from Andropov’s attempts to ‘tighten the screws’ to the apotheosis of perestroika?”
“Russia develops according to the principle of ‘the pendulum’ in which the more it swings out of balance in one direction, the more strongly it returns in the opposite one” in a relatively short time. Consequently, after the Putin regime collapses or is succeeded by another, things are likely to change in radical ways.
Many people are paralyzed by fears of this or that development: that is exactly what Putin wants. But Inozemtsev concludes that the more he considers the existing situation, the more convinced he is of the following: things aren’t going to get a great deal worse in the future than they are now.
And as a result, “just as any path from the North Pole leads to the south, so any variant of the collapse of the existing regime will mean a change for the better.”