Staunton, May 6 – The destruction of all major institutions of the Russian state – and those that remain in place operate more by inertia than anything else – has opened the way to a regime with “a human face,” its own, whose members act according to their own impulses rather than according to the laws they keep having promulgated, Sergey Shelin says.
As a result, the Rosbalt commentator argues, it is the height of naivete to seek any consistency or logic in what the regime does other than the impulses at any particular time of those who form its core group and who feel that they are above any rules however many they seek to impose on others (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/05/06/1900537.html).
As a result of the combination of Putin’s actions and the increasingly lengthy time he and his associates have been in power, “there is no longer a soulless bureaucratic machine fitting people into a Procrustean bed with its own formalities. Now, everything is informal,” Shelin continues.
“Courts still exist but more by inertia,” and no one assumes that they make the decisions they announce. “It isn’t completely clear why parliament remains” given that it is easier for a ruler to simply declare what the rule of the day is than to have it go through the process now visible in the Duma and Federation Council.
Over the last several years, “the so-called institutions have ceased to be used in our case even as political furniture.” And it is clear to everyone that “a small group of like-minded people headed by the leader runs things. The powers have lost their former bureaucratic face and acquired a human one. Their face” and no one else’s.
For autocratic regimes in large and relatively well-off countries, this shift to “radical personalism is quite unusual,” Shelin says. And now analysts are rushing to explain it by pointing to Putin’s declining popularity and his lack of trust in any institution except perhaps those who carry out his punitive orders.
Those may play a role, “but no less importance has the very length of time that one and the same closed circle, isolated from reality and living entirely under its own mythology, has been in place.” In such a situation, each of those at the top assumes he can get what he wants by expressing his own desire for it.
Sometimes this individual may fasten on historical textbooks about Stalingrad or Ivan the Terrible. Other times, he may worry about this or that supposed threat from the opposition. But whatever his concern it, that becomes policy, at least within the country where there are no institutions to oppose it.
When the regime acts as it does abroad, problems multiply because beyond Russia’s borders, there are institutions whose staffs are committed to playing by the rules. When Moscow bumps up into that as it has most recently with the scandals around its coronavirus vaccine, the shortcomings of personalist rule are highlighted.
Russians who were upset by “the faceless state” that Putinism displayed until recently are now compelled to try to figure out just what “the features of a regime with an entirely human face” are going to be like. The only thing such people can be sure of, Shelin suggests, is that the face will display the impulses of those behind it and won’t be bounded by logic or law.