Saturday, January 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Now Faces ‘Years of Reaction,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – In the absence of any deep division within the power elites – and there is none evident now  – Vladimir Putin’s current turn to repression is completely logical from his point of view and guarantees that the Russian Federation now faces “years of reaction,” however much some commentators and demonstrators would like to think otherwise.

            In an essay in yesterday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” commentator Nikolay Rozov points out that the Moscow commentariat is very much divided between those who believe that Putin’s turn to repression reflects “insanity” and even the approaching demise of the system and those who are convinced that it is rational choice on his part (

After surveying the arguments on both sides and considering what would have to happen to justify a conclusion that the regime is on the verge of collapse, Rozov explains in some detail why he is convinced that what Putin is doing makes sense from the Russian president’s point of view and why his repressive system is likely to survive for some time to come.

Rozov quotes Vladimir Pastukhov as saying that the leadership of Russia is convinced “and possibly not without reason” that because it has nuclear weapons and is selling so much gas and oil abroad that it can “without fear of punishment call white black and black white” (

He quotes Ilya Milsheyn’s contrary observation that the Russian elite is increasingly divided between those who follow humane values and those who are simply interested in retaining power (

Rozov then cites Georgy Satarov to the effect that the decline in Putin’s ratings in the poll suggests that he is losing the unqualified support of those in the power vertical and that he has been “forced to shift to other means of retaining power, including some which may be unacceptable to one part of the elite” (

            And the Moscow commentator quotes Andrey Piontkovsky’s suggestion that recent events suggest that “just as was the case in 1999 [at the end of the Yeltsin era], the regime [now] desperately needs ideological and cadres rebranding” if it is to survive into the future (

            But even some of those who think Putin is acting irrationally sometimes point to “’the pluses’” of what he is doing for his own standing, Rozov says. In pushing through the Anti-Magnitsky Act, Satarov observes, Putin “demonstrated that he controls the situation” and that no one in the power vertical needs to worry (

            Another Moscow analyst, Vladimir Nadeyin observes that “Putin could not take power from the people if he had not first taken money from it. And he would not preserve his absolute power if he lost his absolute control over the single source” of profit in the Russian economy, the oil and gas sector (

            Therefore, Rozov cites Nadeyin as saying, “Putin’s cynical gambit is in its own way logical. In order to preserve the secret of the death of S.Magnitsky, it is no big thing to sacrifice children … One barrel of light oil, possibly is not worth the tears of a child. But millions and hundreds of millions of barrels” are something else for the state.

            And as Rozov notes, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” have pointed out that the authorities have been very clever “in keeping the initiative, forming the order of the day, and restraining the protest movement to a sufficiently narrow niche of part of the educated class of the largest cities” (

            If one considers all these observations, Rozov says, it is possible to draw the outlines of “the consciously or unconsciously adopted strategy of the regime.”  First, Putin has redefined Russia as “a civilization” rather than “a European country,” as a place defined by Orthodoxy much as the Soviet Union was defined by Communism.

            Second, his strategy is founded on isolationism, on the rebuilding of a curtain if not yet an “iron” one around the country. That simultaneously allows Putin to counterpose Russia to the “spiritually vacant” West and to portray his opponents as “a fifth column.”

Third, this strategy allows him to threaten members of the elite and impose new discipline on them by suggesting that their ties with the West could put them at risk. And fourth, it calls for breaking apart the protest movement by targeted repression, threats of fines, and the elimination of “the main civic freedoms.”

            Seen from this perspective, what Putin is trying to do is “completely logical, internally consistent, and ration, not “insanity” or “inadequacy,” Rozov says, whatever one’s assessment of the morality of the Russian president’s approach.

            Given that, the main issue about whether what Putin is trying to do makes sense involves the issue of the probability of the emergence of serious split in the elite. There is no good data on this, Rozov says, but there is some suggestive on the clans and their relations with the leaders and with one another (

            At present, he continues, there is no indication that there are serious splits or even the basis for serious divisions within the senior power structures.  “The formal and informal heads of the elite clans, in the first instance those of the force structures are part of Putin’s closest circle and there is no indication of obvious disloyalty” among them.

            As long as that remains the case, Rozov says, statements about the imminent end of the regime or its “inadequacy” or “insanity” will remain nothing more than self-serving evaluations by either opposition political figures or analysts.  And a sober assessment requires the conclusion, h says that “in front of [Russia] are years of reaction.”

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