Staunton, April 14 – The Russian expert community which services the Kremlin is playing a much-underrated role in helping the powers that be to continue to operate, albeit in increasingly inadequate ways, on the basis of an upbeat view of Russia and its place in the world that is very much at odds with reality, Liliya Shevtsova says.
In Russia today, the political analyst says, “an analytic ‘escort service’ has taken shape, whose role in the functioning of our system is still underrated.” It includes not only TV talk show performers but even “solid analysts, who have been able to create their own ‘narrative’ with pretensions to academic standards” (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2407425-echo/).
In fact, however, by carefully selecting what they say and don’t say, this “high class of experts” works more as propagandists than as analysts. They did not predict the consequences of raising pension ages. They did not talk in advance about the reaction of regions to the appointment of outsiders, Shevtsova says.
And she then asks pointedly: can anyone point to “any of the respected experts with close ties to the regime who foresaw that ‘strengthening’ the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya could spark the explosion of the North Caucasus?” The answer to that question is no just as it is to the existence of such near-Kremlin experts on other sensitive issues.
As a result, the Kremlin remains satisfied, convinced by such people that its vision of the world is correct, that it is not making any mistakes, and that there is no place for criticism or pessimism, even as a more objective view would suggest that the powers that be are making mistake after mistake after mistake.
Like their Kremlin clients, Shevtsova continues, “our analytic gurus keep talking about the rotting of the West, about the disintegration of the liberal order, about the crisis in Europe, about NATO’s loss of mission, and, of course, about how the West humiliates us and doesn’t want to see Russia as a country with equal rights.”
Such “songs,” of course, are music to the ears of the Kremlin clients of such analysts who are servicing those paying the bills with exactly what they believe those above them want to hear. But how much evidence is there for the opinions they offer? And how many problems are the experts avoiding talking about all together lest their clients turn elsewhere?
What is particularly disturbing, Shevtsova suggests, is that “the conformism of our experts is their voluntary choice.” The Kremlin has not forced them to lie; it has only made it easier for those who do, an ever-growing number, and harder for those who don’t, an ever-smaller one.
But by serving the Kremlin bosses in this way, she says, the expert community is harming Russian society not only by ensuring that the powers that be will continue to make the wrong choices but also by denying larger groups in the population the information they need to challenge those in power.
In sum, Shevtsova argues, the powers that be aren’t the only ones responsible for their growing inadequacy. Responsibility falls on the experts “who have chosen the path of propagandists. The analytic field must be weeded and the reputation of the profession restored,” something that will be “a difficult task.”
“For the time being, we have what we have: a whole class of people who have made their profession that of escort services.”