Wednesday, February 5, 2020

‘Liberal Democracy and Authoritarianism Cannot Coexist,’ Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – It was common ground about both Soviet communists and Western liberals during the Cold War that communism and liberal democracy could not co-exist forever and that one or the other systems must triumph. But since 1991, many, especially in the West, have assumed that authoritarianism and liberal democracy can live side by side forever.

            They are wrong, Russian commentator Aleksandr Skobov says. “Liberal democracy and authoritarianism cannot coexist on one earth.” One or the other must triumph at least for a time, and recognition of this reality is essential if liberal democracy is going to defend itself against this updated attack (

            Skobov notes that he has been suggesting this for many years but that now, others, who possibly are better informed about the inner machinations of the Putin regime are beginning to say the same thing.  Valery Solovey, late of MGIMO, for example, is warning of just such an eventuality.

            Over the course of his 20 years in power, Skobov has said and Solovey confirms, Putin and his entourage have accepted an idea every bit as messianic as that of the communists, one that has made them committed to  “the destruction of the Western civilizational project” (

            Even more, Skobov says, Solovey’s words suggest that the Kremlin sees the coming year as a critical one in which Moscow has no choice but to go for broke because after that time, “the window of opportunities” may not be open as wide as Putin and his clique believe is the case now.

            This, of course, “makes the Kremlin especially dangerous” now, as Andrey Piontkovsky has argued, Skobov suggests; and it further means that the Kremlin’s goals of some kind of “’new Yalta’” are much more far-reaching than either the original agreement of that name or than many who talk about this idea now understand.

            Many understand a new Yalta as being only about “the division of the world into spheres of influence among several ‘great powers,’ who would form a kind of ‘worldwide Politburo’ collectively deciding particular regional problems.” Not only is that a simplification of what Putin seeks but a serious distortion.

            What the Kremlin really wants is international recognition of its right to rule as it likes over those in its part of the world even as it continues to interfere in the democratic countries and a commitment by the West not to remove any regimes, however noxious, that the Kremlin has christened with the sacred word “legitimacy.”

            That would mean that the Kremlin would have every right to intervene on behalf of tyrants while the West would give up the right to intervene on behalf of those the tyrants oppress.

            Significantly, “the Kremlin really will not seek the overthrow of Western elites.” Instead, it will seek to draw them into the use of the Putin system’s methods of rule, thus working with Moscow to subvert democracy and converting it into something “manipulative and decorative” just as it is in Russia.

            The Russian leadership “can count on finding in Western elites numerous allies in this regard,” Skobov says, “not to mention non-Western elites.”  But if this happens, “it will mean ‘the exit of the West from history’ or ‘the closing down of the Western civilizational project.’” And demonstrating the inability of West to respond to Russian challenges is part of this.

            Skobov says he doesn’t know whether Solovey has his facts or timing right.  But he does know this: “only a demonstration by the West of readiness to fight for its values can stop the process unleashed by the Kremlin intended to destroy the international-legal foundations of the present-day world order.”

            “If this process isn’t stopped, it will sooner or later lead to war; and it isn’t important between whom or by whom it is begun. It will all the same drag in others. Scenarios may be different, but the Putin elite will never turn away from efforts to destroy the present world order.”

            And people in the West need to understand as well that “no material interests will overcome that elite’s existential hatred to the West as a civilization of human rights and a legal state, for human rights are a limitation on the all-powerful nature of the elite, all-powerful over their slaves.”

            Consequently, Skobov concludes, liberal democracy and the aggressive authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s regime “cannot coexist on one earth” in the 21st century any more than liberal democracy and communism could in the 20th.  

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