Russian liberals thus expected “a miracle” after Stalin and another miracle after Brezhnev, he continues; and now they expect yet a third “after Putin.” In fact, those rulers were not anomalies, as the liberals imagine, but “much more closely” part of the code of Russian culture and thus likely to take the upper hand in the future.
Indeed, Pastukhov suggests, “if the culture code of Russia remains unchanged, then the historical the chances that everything will end with another Putin, young and fresh, are much higher than, for example, those of getting some kind of new Gorbachev.” Putin’s influence is great and will likely last for at least several generations.
To expect others as liberals do is to assume that there is a “’normal’ Russia” to return to. But “unfortunately, there isn’t and perhaps never was. “There is only Russia which formed Putin.” When he passes, there will be turbulence, but it is “theoretically completely possible” that his system will continue without him.
The idea that liberalization is inevitable after Putin “is a dangerous myth, the latest Russian utopia,” and one that those who hope for such liberalization need to discard if they are to make some liberalization possible, the historian observes.
“After Putin will be not a thaw but a flood,” Pastukhov says. Putin is the main factor restraining “the fratricidal intra-elite struggle which is particularly dangerous in the absence of institutions.” Once he is gone, all these groups will re-emerge and engage in a harsh struggle for primacy, settling accounts and overturning some rules in hopes of putting in place others.
For Russia to change direction, the historian continues, “there will have to be found someone who can change it,” and finding such people is not so simple: many are called but few are chosen. Russia’s future depends to a much greater degree not on Putin’s departure,” that on the people who will contest for his position..
“It might seem that candidate number one for the role of director of changes are the irreconcilable fighters with the regime” who need not be numerous, as the Bolsheviks showed in 1917. “The problem, however, is that when Putin leaves, there will occur almost a complete reduction to zero of all political capital, including that of the opposition.”
Thus, betting on anyone today is “almost senseless” because it is highly probable that “the first will be those who now are considered the last.” According to Pastukhov, both the Putin and the anti-Putin coalitions will disintegrate, with each dividing up among various positions and forming new alliances.
“Russia’s fate,” he says, “will depend in large measure on the ability of the present-day opposition to overcome sectarianism and find a way to the heart of the political class. There is no need to wait for the period ‘after Putin;’ the opposition “today must propose a positive agenda, one acceptable for the current pro-Putin majority.”
That political class, of course, won’t accept that agenda now while Putin is still in power; but they will keep it in mind for the future,” Pastukhov concludes.