Staunton, June 21 – Like many authoritarian leaders, Vladimir Putin has assumed that he could use aggression abroad to shore up support at home, only to discover that after the passing of a certain amount of time, the burdens of war are exacerbating the domestic situation and even creating a revolutionary situation, Vadim Shtepa says
Just as many Russians in 1914 enthusiastically supported the tsarist regime’s participation in World War I in 1914 only to turn on the tsar and drive him and his system from power three years later, so too history may be about to repeat itself, the Tallinn-based analyst continues (icds.ee/ru/imperskaja-geopolitika-vzryvaetsja-iz/).
Putin’s “hybrid” war has not yet created a revolutionary situation of that dimension – it has affected Russia far less than did World War I at least so far – but it is putting in place the very same factors: Russians no longer are distracted by war or happy to sacrifice for it in the name of glory, and again today they want domestic change, including at the top.
As a century ago, Russians are protesting about ever more things, from church construction to trash dumps to language rules to pensions, and also like a century ago, many see these as separate from one another, but, Shtepa argues, all of them reflect a growing distrust of the authorities and their ability to respond in a positive way.
There is another parallel with that past, one that the Kremlin so far appears to be misreading. In 1917, most of the protests came to be led by the far left; in that case, by the Bolsheviks. Now, increasingly demonstrations across Russia are led by the KPRF, their successor.
But what is striking, Shtepa continues, is that many KPRF deputies, if not the pocket leadership of the party, are increasingly informed not simply by social protest of a traditional kind but by anti-colonial attitudes of the periphery of the country toward the dominance of Moscow, the regionalist theorist says.
And in this regard, the current situation contains an echo of another part of Russia’s past, the period of the late 1980s when the CPSU which contained within its ranks the “most varied social forces over a remarkably short period of time dissolved into regional parties that broke the USSR and became the basis for many of the new countries which emerged out of its wreckage.
Concurrently, and again a reflection of that past, some members of United Russia which purports to be the ruling party are planning election campaigns for September voting in which they will conceal their party membership because a party associated with the Putin regime has become increasingly toxic to their chances.
The regionalization of Russian protest will only continue to grow, Shtepa says, because the center no longer offers anything that Russians beyond the ring road view in a positive way. A new war offers them nothing but more losses to their standard of living, and new federal programs only mean that more money will be taken from them and go to Moscow.
Consequently, again like in 1917 and in 1991, Russians will see to defend themselves because they see no other basis for retaining even what they have, and as Moscow analyst Mikhail Vinogradov says, such “regional patriotism” is already more important than the “all-Russian kind” (old.davydov.in/region/regiony-udarilis-v-patriotizm/regiony-udarilis-v-patriotizm/).
In this situation, Putin lacks any other vision but to try to do what he has done before, increasing aggression and aggressive propaganda; but neither he nor his regime has the vision or the opportunity or the resources to be successful. However, many now think that the only place he could do so would be to arrange the Anschluss of Belarus.
But in what may prove to be the ultimate paradox of Russian history, Shtepa concludes, such “’a new Crimea,’” an act designed to save the empire, could have exactly the opposite effect and lead to its final dissolution. After all, the Beloveshchaya pushcha where the leaders of three Soviet republics put an end to the USSR is located in Belarus.