Staunton, August 6 – In the 20 years since he ascended to the top of the Russian political system, Vladimir Putin has evolved many think through three different ‘ages’ from almost a liberal committed to modernization to a conservative opposed to the operation of the free market to “a satrap crudely violating human rights,” New Times commentator Andrey Kolesnikov says.
The question is whether a fourth “age” is possible, one that will allow those in power to remain there even after he exits the scene and that will recover the popular support he had in the earlier three, he continues, adding that at present it is hard to see how that could be accomplished (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/183388).
That pessimistic conclusion arises, Kolesnikov says, from certain underlying trends that have helped to shape the three “ages” of Putin so far. In the first “age,” “liberals expected a Russian Pinochet” and for a time it appeared they had got one. He moved against the oligarchs but he did not promote any modernization. The ruling class in contrast “expected him to impose order in everything.”
To that end, the latter welcomed Putin’s depriving a number of people of the notion that “they rule the country” and the leaders of the regions” from the illusion that the territories entrusted to them were their country of more precisely their patrimony.” But the ruling class did not see that Putin’s purpose was to extract resources and that meant undermining them as well.
In “the second age” when order had been restored as both liberals and the powers that be wanted, Putin showed his “authoritarian impulses and even anti-democratic preferences” by arresting Khodorkovsky and becoming via United Russia with its “imitation” opposition, the KPRF and the LDPR, the “absolute” master of the Duma and then the Federation Council.
In February 2007, Kolesnikov writes, “Putin completed his foreign policy coming out at the Munich Security Conference, having in fact announced his further program of action” to restore Russia as a great power and the Kremlin as its controlling center. He then left things to Medvedev for a term, someone who wouldn’t challenge the regime Putin had set up.
That regime consisted of “the siloviki, the Orthodox chekists,’ the state oligarchs from among his friends, who had captured the national wealth, and state capitalism in the economy. As a result, Medvedev made little difference, and when Putin returned in his third “age,” he could continue in the directions he had pursued earlier.
In the protests against the elections, Putin “did not see a serious occasion to enter into dialogue with the square.” Instead, in order to maintain his system, he increasingly turned to repression to keep the people in line via a series of repressive laws and actions, Kolesnikov continues.
Indeed, one can say that Putin in his third “age” “opened two fronts: one against the West and the second against the civil society of Russia.” His ratings fell off but then something unexpected happened: the patriotism generated by his war against Ukraine beginning in 2014 pushed his ratings higher than they had ever been.
But now five years later, he is experiencing falling ratings. The Crimean consensus has collapsed, and Russians say that “we are already great again,” but also say that they want to have a better life. In short, Putin’s two social contracts with the Russian people, one based on improving the standard of living and the other on hurrah patriotism have disintegrated.
Today, the New Times commentator says, “there is no new formula for a renewed contract.” And so Putin is relying on repression, surrounding himself with others whose only desire is that the current regime survive so that they can pass on their power and wealth to their offspring.
“Putin marked his 20th anniversary in power in a submarine at the bottom of the sea and then at a session of the Security Council where alongside him sat people who resemble those who would have been present in the Politburo under Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko, people who only want the present to continue because they have no vision of the future.
But neither they nor Putin know whether the present can be maintained forever by force alone. It almost certainly cannot as the end of the Soviet system demonstrated. And that raises the bigger question: is there any possibility that there will be a “fourth age” of Putin or will he and his system end in the dustbin of history as did his Soviet predecessors?