Up to now, most attention has focused on the foreign policy dimension of this shift, including new tensions with the West and the certainty of more sanctions, developments that were entirely predictable but that the Kremlin has decided to accept as a cost of doing business while remaining in power, Shevtsova says.
But this means that Russians will once again have to live “cut off from the world,” something that represents “a different life and a different trajectory” than the one they thought they were on, and that will involve a significant tightening of the screws at home lest they respond in ways that might threaten the regime.
“Putin is creating his variant of Lenin’s Rabkrin, the workers and peasant inspectorate. The Putin ‘Rabkrin’ is intended to ensure the fulfillment of Putin decrees.” And his decision to take this step shows that “the Kremlin is worried about disorganization of the apparatus of the powers that be.” In many ways, this is “already a step of despair” because there is no trust.
But such moves are not trivial: they represent a reversal of what Russia had achieved since 1991; and if Russia is going to live in isolation and rely on its own resources, the regime will need to put even more pressure on the population and engage in even more extravagant foreign actions in an effort to mobilize it.
Indeed, Shevtsova says, the Kerch incident as Putin orchestrated it is forcing Russians to ask three critical questions: “Can one survive relying on one’s own strengths without shifting to a dictatorship and the building of a GULAG?” “Will the elite, integrated as it is in the West, agree to live in such a small closet?”
And finally, “is dialogue with the West, which Putin seeks, in fact possible if the Kremlin isn’t prepared to make any concessions?”