Saturday, August 10, 2019

Extreme Optimism and Extreme Pessimism in Wake of Moscow Protests Unjustified and Destructive, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 8 – The protests in Moscow last weekend and the official repression of them have given rise to two diametrically opposed predictions about the future, Dimitry Savvin says. Both are unjustified and destructive, but each contains just enough truth to attract attention and support.

            According to the first, “Russia is on the brink of a revolution or even a civil war, that the regime is a colossus with feet of clay, that these are crumbling and that one need only wait a big and then “the beautiful Russia of the future” will almost magically appear, the editor of a Russian portal in Riga says (

            According to the second alternative set of predictions, he continues, the powers that be are in full control, will crush any manifestation of dissent, and consequently that no real change can be expected anytime soon. In short, “all who live in the Russian Federation must leave hope behind.” 

            In response, the conservative Russian commentator says, one can only say that “both the first and the second view are not simply untrue: they are destructive, although there is a dollop of truth in each.”

            For a revolution to take place, he says, four things are needed – the existence of an alternative elite, the presence of a revolutionary organization, popular political leaders, and a systemic crisis.  None of them exists in Russia at least in a full-blown way, and so no revolution there is likely in the immediate future.

            That is not to say that there aren’t signs of the emergence of each, but these are only the beginnings and they aren’t going to lead to the revolution some thing the Moscow protests portend as being immediately ahead, Savvin argues.  Instead, a revolution, if it occurs, is something far more distant.

            Talking as if this were not the case will inevitably inspire “false hopes” and when those hopes are dashed a new wave of disappointment, which will make the achievement of any serious change that much more difficult.

            Thus, the prophets of immediate revolution are wrong; but so too are those who say the regime can continue unchanged for a long time to come. That is certainly what Putin and his entourage in the Kremlin would like, but the protest movement among other things makes that impossible.

            Even though the Kremlin leaders would like to avoid taking action, the protesters are forcing them to, the commentator says. Indeed, one can say in the language of chess that Putin is now in a Zugswang where he would like to pass but can’t because almost any move – toward liberalization or toward repression -- will make his situation worse.  

            Liberalization offers the better option in some ways, but it contradicts Putin’s preferences and undermines his system, allowing for the emergence of ever greater challenges. But repression, while more congenial to him, will lead to further deterioration of relations with the West, of the economy and of the social system, opening the way to “systemic collapse.”

            Given this choice, Savvin continues, “the Kremlin would very much like to change nothing,” to “’freeze’ the Russian Federation in its current state. “But growing protest activity, like a blast of heat, makes changes inevitable,” in one direction or another for a long time or a brief one.

            “Today, as at the end of the 1980s, a struggle is going on not for a legal state, a free society and a free market. Today, a struggle is taking place for the very possibility of struggling for these things, for the creation of conditions in which the corresponding political forces can grow.”

            The protesters aren’t going to win out anytime soon, he continues. “Years of intense work and struggle” are ahead, and everyone must recognize this. Moreover, things are not going to move along a single vector: there will be increasing repression on some occasions, and increasing liberalization in others. 

            Protest actions “from Shiyes to Moscow are one of the very important steps along this path, without which other steps won’t occur and one that may ultimately ensure enough change in the elites that there won’t be “a neo-Soviet nomenklatura restoration” again.  This in turn means that it is necessary to proceed but without excessive optimism or excessive pessimism.”

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