Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin Playing Regions against the Capital to Maintain Himself in Power, Oreshkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 9 – Like Nicholas II and Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin is putting the regions and their more traditionalist values in play against the emergent civil society in Moscow as part of his effort to keep himself and his allies in office and in control of Russia’s enormous natural wealth, according to a leading Moscow commentator.

            But Putin’s efforts in this regard, however successful they may be in the short and medium term, are likely because of the forces of economic modernization to fail over the longer haul, Dmitry Oreshkin writes in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” and his approach will not “end well” for anyone involved (

            In his year-ender article, the Moscow commentator notes that 2012 “began with the Moscow protests, continued with the falsification of the presidential elections and ended with vengeance involving domestic orphans for the [US] Magnitsky Act.”  And the last twelve months featured defeats for Putin regarding Syria, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

            Because Putin is now in a corner – and that means, Oreshkin says, that he is “Putin squared” – “the near future will [feature] fear, outrage, and false hysterics,” all of it “masked by aggression.” And that will lead ever more people to feel that Putin and “the authorizes are losing” their ability to cope with the situation.

            “The chief result of 2012,” Oreshkin continues, is that Vladimir Putin became “offensive” to Russians, much as Alyaksandr Lukashenka already had for Belarusians.

            It is now obvious, the commentator says, that “the diversification of the economy is impossible for that presupposes competition, the limitation of corruption and the broadening of the rights of property owners,” all of which “contradict the interests” of the powers that be.  Consequently, “the positive mobilization of the electorate has ended.”

            Instead, “in order to preserve itself in power,” Putin and those behind him “have been forced to use negative mechanisms,” starting with “propagandistic” assertions that “enemies are all around,” passing on to “repressions” based on the supposed existence of “a fifth column,” and involving “a growing amount of falsification.”

            As a result, “instead of mobilization, the process is leading to the division” of society between “the more educated, informed and independent part of the population” – no fewer than 20 million citizens – and those outside the capital and on the periphery who still support authoritarian solutions and are even prepared to participate in them.

            This situation and this approach are nothing new in Russian history, Oreshkin notes.  Indeed, it is “very typical.”  The last tsar used outsiders to try to put down “the excessiviely liberal and Europeanized capitals.”  He failed, but the Bolsheviks seized on  this “negative potential” of the lower classes.

            And Stalin, “albeit much more successfully” than Nicholas II, used the same strategy after the failures of collectivization and the impact of industrialization “threatened his status.” He destroyed the old Bolsheviks with their broader experience and brought in from the outside figures like Yezhov, Kaganovich, Khrushchev and Malenkov.

            Putin finds himself in a more difficult position, Oreshkin says.  “On the one hand,” he is condemned to imitate Stalin in this regard, “but on the other, he does not want to appear to be so obviously an executioner.”  The Russian president thus suffers from “cognitive dissonance” in that in some ways he is closer to the more civilized Nicholas II but “instinctively,” he is inspired by “the emperor of the barbarians, Joseph I.”

            Indeed, Russia’s current situation is more analogous to 1917 than to the Arab Spring because once again, “a Europeanized capital is speaking out against a regime” which is prepared to suppress that challenge by drawing on the attitudes and desire among those on the periphery for revenge against the more educated and prosperous.

            But in this case, Oreshkin speculates, it may do so “not with a Marxist but with an Islamist cast.”  But, he asks rhetorically, “what really is the difference for the degraded cities” of Russia?

            The Moscow protests reflected the nature of the educated population that took part. They were orderly. But these demonstrations frightened Putin who decided not to portray himself any longer as “the all-national leader” but rather to position himself as “the boss of only the ‘correct people’ [who continue to back authoritarian measures] against ‘the incorrect’ [who don’t.]”

            Over the last twelve months, the commentator says, it because “especially evident” that Russia’s problem now as in the past involves its “socio-cultural evolution” and that neither “the revolutionary campaign of E.V. Limonov nor the counterrevolutionary one of V.V. Putin has prospects for success.” Indeed, neither can come with what is taking place in the capital.

            Putin has to “stop the process” of evolution that the capital’s citizens represent. He and the authorities have to orient themselves “to barbarism and leveling in the interests of control and simplification.” He and they cannot agree to any partnership with Moscow society or even the moderation of Dmitry Medvedev.

            The Russian president presumably might have made a different choice, but now he has demonstrated that he has come down on the side of “barbarism,” with its insistence on collective responsibility rather than individual one as shown by Putin’s decision to prevent Americans from adopting Russian children in response to the US Congress’ adoption of the Magnitsky Act.

            “The idea of collective responsibility is instinctively alien to the advanced part of society and instinctively close to the part of society that opposes it,” Oreshkin says. And it is “not all that important” how the regime tries to play the one group off against the other as Putin has clearly decided to do.

            The powers that be “can use class: the bourgeoisie is guilty of everything, they can use nationalism: the Jews are guilty of everything. Or, let us add, the Caucasians. They can do it with race: the blacks, whites or yellows are guilty of everything. They can do so in religious terms … and they can do it in territorial ones,” playing the regions against Moscow.

            But as Stalin and Hitler both demonstrated, the Moscow commentators says, leaders who begin with one slogan can quickly change to others,” all because they are convinced that part of the population will share their views about collective responsibility and collective guilt of this or that group.

            In 2012, Oreshkin argues, “Putin stayed on the barbarian shore” of this dispute, “in the company of the social periphery that remained true to him and is led by Mr. Kadyrov” who delivered 99.8 percent of the vote.  But urban Russian is moving in another direction, and despite the Kremlin’s liberal use of administrative pressure, the candidate of the party of power couldn’t win a majority in Moscow or Kaliningrad.

            In short, Oreshkin concludes, over the past year, Putin ceased to present himself as “the gatherer of Russian lands” and “was forced to pass to the game of cleansing the healthy popular body from the infections” of what he views as the alien strata of the population. A few years ago, “hope remained” that the regime and the capital could unite.  That is gone, Oreshkin says.

            The immediate future, however, is not good, because “the regime in order to preserve itself has adopted the course of splitting society,” and the outcome of that promises to be anything but good.

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