Staunton, March 25 – The division between systemic and non-systemic parties in Russia is breaking down with the former no longer protected as the latter never have been against attacks by the powers that be if the Kremlin views them as the source of problems for itself and thus fundamentally “disloyal,” Moscow commentator Andrey Pertsev says.
“The systemic politicians and parties which with the permission of the Kremlin have participated in elections as the opposition have discovered,” the Moscow analyst writes, “that loyalty and observing the rules no longer defends them from pressure from the powers that be (carnegie.ru/commentary/78661).
As the Putin regime has seen its ratings decline and as popular protests have increased, Pertsev says, the Kremlin is ever less willing to tolerate what it did from the systemic opposition, views the successes some members of that category have achieved as a threat to itself, and has chosen to attack them.
The way it has treated former KPRF presidential candidate Grudilin in the last few weeks is emblematic of this trend but hardly unique. The Kremlin was happy to have him as an opponent who did not really oppose Putin at the time of the presidential elections; but now, the powers that be aren’t prepared to tolerate even that approach.
And so the Presidential Administration has pushed him out of the charmed circle even though the KPRF leader wanted to remain a systemic politician and was prepared to play by the rules. That was enough in the past, “but this didn’t help now,” Persev says. Instead, even someone like that is now viewed as an enemy to be punished rather than an ally to be cultivated.
“For many years,” the analyst continues, “the KPRF, the LDPR and Just Russia were an important part of the political system of Russia. Completely loyal to the vertical, they created the illusion of choice and collected protest votes.” They were always ready to fall in line with the Kremlin and knew how far they could go and never went beyond it in seeking support.
But the limits the Kremlin has insisted on have contracted, and now even those who continue to behave as they did are discovering that the powers that be view them in a fundamentally different and more hostile way. “The borders of what it means to be systemic have thus lost all meaning.”
And instead of an arrangement under which the systemic parties could act within limits, the Kremlin now has adopted a new principle, one that makes a mockery of their existence: “If a candidate or a party list creates problems” for the regime, “this means that it is disloyal and extra-systemic,” however loyal and systemic it has been up to then.
“If the old borders of systemic-ness are to be preserved,” Pertsev says, “the Presidential Administration must admit to itself and its chief customer that the satisfied Putin majority is becoming a dissatisfied society, which will not automatically vote for those whom the chief of state directs.”
But hardly anyone in that universe is willing to acknowledge this change; and as a result, “the spoilers have won because they have conducted themselves in a non-systemic way.” In response, the Kremlin has done the one thing it knows how to do: it has sought to punish them by excluding them from the permissible.
In short, the Kremlin is offering the systemic opposition a new deal: observe all the old rules but don’t expect to be protected if you cross the line and gain support. That’s not much of a deal as far as the old systemic parties are concerned; and they may choose to ignore it. If they do, they could gain even more support from the angry population.
At the very least, the Putin regime will lose the appearance of giving anyone a choice – and that in turn will mean that it will lose even more support than it has in recent months.