Staunton, January 4 – Vladimir Putin and those around him believe that the USSR could have survived forever had someone other than Mikhail Gorbachev been in office and had that individual been prepared to use force against his challengers, Vladimir Pastukhov says. And now they believe that they, because they will do that, can keep their system in place forever.
That conviction explains both the Kremlin leader’s approach since coming to power and the specific actions he took over the past 12 months, actions that were driven by revolutionary threats to his power that he saw emerging in 2019, the London-based Russian analyst says (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2768452-echo/).
More than that, Putin and his team believe not only that they can maintain their system but also that the West which opposes them is on the brink of disintegration and that they can help themselves by taking steps to accelerate that process. In short, their strategy is that of Khrushchev’s “’We will bury them.’”
But Putin and his entourage are wrong to think that they are in the same position as the Soviet leaders. The USSR had an ideology and was in fact “a theocratic state.” Consequently, it had something to hold it together even when leaders died. The Russian Federation has no equivalent. It is a personalist dictatorship without widely accepted ideas.
That means that the passing of any of its leaders is a threat to the existence of the system they have established in ways that the death of USSR leaders did not pose an analogous one to the Soviet system, Pastukhov argues. The system is supported by masses inclined to support those in power, by its economic successes and an updated “Versailles syndrome.”
Those are not unimportant factors, but the first can turn on leaders if the second it not achieved and the third can upend both in the absence of continuing acts of revenge. For a time, perhaps a long time, that is enough; but it isn’t the kind of ideological framework that allowed the USSR to survive the deaths of leaders and last seven decades.
Nonetheless, the London-based Russian analyst suggests, in the wake of the pandemic, Russia will be subject to most of the same pressures arising from the inequality that the coronavirus has exacerbated and thus will stand face to face with problems Putin still believes he can solve by striking out first.
The Kremlin leader may be able to weather this challenge and the problems of stagnation that will accompany it by hitting out at his opponents. But that strategy will allow him to survive; but not his system once he is gone. That is why those around the Kremlin fear his departure, but they do not appear to understand the nature of the problem they face.