Monday, December 3, 2012

Window on Eurasia: ‘In Order to Survive, Putin Must Become Stalin,’ Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 3 – Russian President Vladimir Putin faces the challenge that faced Joseph Stalin in the early 1930s: he must find a way to bring to heel the very people who helped bring him to power. In short,  Russian analyst says, “in order to survive, Putin must become Stalin.”

            In a lengthy article in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” Vladimir Pastukhov, who currently teaches at St. Antony’s College in Oxford, said that there is only one difference in the obstacles the Russian leader faces if he is to overcome his current difficulties and achieve unrestricted personal power (

            Stalin faced the opposition of the old Bolsheviks whose careers were now entwined with the state, Pastukhov argues, while Putin faces opposition from “’the chekists from Petersburg’ who have become a mafia” and whose efforts to entrench themselves have restricted the current president’s freedom of action.

            According to the Russian analyst, the Russian opposition seriously underestimates the ability of the state to change and present “a new political order of the day.” Instead, it “interprets all the actions of the Kremlin exclusively as propaganda” rather than as moves on the complicated chessboard of power.

            Because there is “no simple way out” of the crisis Russia has been in since the end of the 1970s, he continues, many suggest that only “extreme variants” are available, “either a right-radical overthrow” of the existing system or “a revolution, also provoked by the Kremlin” which would use it to establish its own dictatorship.

            However, while they are not often discussed, there are other scenarios which are “directed exclusively” to ensuring the position of those in power and putting off the resolution of more fundamental problems for the time being.  Amongthe most likely of these, Pastukhov says, is “the bureaucratic optimization of the regime.”

            The analyst suggests that today “we are witnessing an important turn in the policy of the Kremlin … a ‘gray overthrow’” of the existing system about which no one speaks aloud. Because officially no such new course exists” and because any discussion of it could provoke the kind of “clan struggle” that would create new obstacles.

            The Kremlin’s new policy of “bureaucratic optimization” is Putin’s response to “the revolution that has not taken place” and to the failure of Dmmitry Medvedev to carry out a Gorbachev-style liberalization.  And Putin’s approach shows that Medvedev’s approach is “not the only possible form of bureaucratic optimization.”

            What is occurring now, Pastukhov suggests is “an ‘Andropov-stule” version of perestroika,” one in which the chief of uses the compaign against corruption to free himself from the restrictions imposed by those who have brought him to power and who then assumed positions from which they do not want to be removed.

            No one should be surprised that in Russia, what is essentially a reactionary shift at the top  “post facto brings to life the program of a failed revolution.”  That is what Stolypin did after the failure of the first Russian revolution, and “the ‘Serdyukovshchina’” is besides a personal settling of scores is today a response to anti-government activists.

            Those in the Kremlin are not “primitives.” They “cannot failure to feel and as a result to recognize what are the chief challenges of the times.  They are extremely well informed and know that “legal arbitrariness and corruption rather than social policy … is the chief trigger” of political unrest in the country.

            The Kremlin also “understands,” Pastukhov insists, “that a symmetrical political answer must be given to any political challenge.” In the current case, Putin must deal with two challenges: the struggle with corruption and the reform of the political system. And it has a real interest in resolving these albeit in ways very different from their advocates would want.

            There is a precedent for Putin in this regard.  “Ten years ago,” he “created a political reputation in the struggle with the oligarchs having taken from the opposition its slogansofthe 1990s.” Now, he “is attempting to repeat his success and establish his lost reputation by creating for himself the image of a battler with the corrupt bureaucracy.”

            This time around, Pastukhov argues, “bureaucrats as the object of a hatred carefully cultivated by the government’s means of mass information must replace in mass consciousness the oligarchs who have become much less important.” But as in the earlier struggle, Putin’s “terror” will touch far from all bureaucrats, although many will feel uncertainty.”

            Putin must take these steps, the analyst says, because “it is not he who rules Russia but a certain ‘power cloud,’” because the system that he created has emerged out from under his control. He “does not intend to change the system … but only wants to return to himself his lost power.”

            To a certain extent, “Putin’s new course is directed against the elite in general. [He] does not need the elite” because its member in the independence they have acquired undermine his power. Indeed, “his old friends” no longer play the role that they did; they have become “politically dysfunctional.”

            “Theoretically,” Pastukhov says, “there are two ways to control the bureaucracy:” democratically “with the help of civil society under conditions of economic and political pluralism,” something Putin is not interested in, or “by establishing total personal control over the apparatus of power.”

            That is what Putin clearly wants to do,”but it is not enough to have ambition; one must also have ammunition.” The Russian president needs his own force apparatus, but at present he does not have one totally committed to himself alone.  Stalin faced the same challenge, and so to that extent, “Putin must become Stalin,” break United Russia and those who depend on it for their careers.

            He can do that by integrating the party of power with the state in the way that Stalin did with the Bolsheviks, and if Putin does so, “it will be a kind of historic justice” because it would be “the logical extension of the restorationist policy of Vladimir Putin.” Obviously, “it is impossible to seek the restoration of the USSR on all fronts and not try to revive the CPSU.”

                As Putin proceds, “a clash of ‘the young wolves’ and ‘the Petersburg chekists’ is almost inevitable,” Pastukhov says. “This is only a question of time.” And the struggle of the party men with the chekists now just as in the past will lead to exposure of corruption on the one hand and its institutionalization in “regulated nomenklatura privileges.”

            The Russian present may not succeed, of course, Pastukhaov says, but “the gray overthrow” of the existing order “is an attempt to double the power of Putin,” not the GDP of Russia.  If he does not succeed in doing so, the analyst concludes, he ultimately will be left an unused chesspiece on the board of history.

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