Thursday, September 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putinism is a ‘Dispersed Despotism,’ Ikhlov Argues

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 26 – Putinism is “not the harsh authoritarianism of a Belarusian, Iraqi or Syrian type” but rather a kind of “dispersed despotism” in which in each segment of the polity and society there is combined “complete chaos and a Brownian motion of micro-dictators,” according to Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov.

            In a comment posted on the portal today, Ikhlov argues that Yevgeny Gontmakher’s recent suggestion that the state does not exist in Russia today seemed strange but in fact highlighted an important reality: there is no single vertical that imposes the will of the top on those below (

            Instead, Ikhlov argues, what has emerged in Russia and what can be called Putinism is “not the harsh authoritarianism of the Belarusian, Iraqi (under Saddam) or Syrian (under Asad) type.” Instead it is “an analogue to enlightened Russian autocracy as it existed under Alexander II and again under Brezhnev, a certain scattered and dispersed despotism.”

            “In each cell of the system, including civil society,” he writes, “there is authoritarianism but also complete chaos and a Brownian motion of micro-dictators.” The center can enforce its will at any time down to the local level but only if it uses the special services and targets this or that place.  It cannot enforce its will everywhere all the time.

            Many in Russia “idealize” authoritarianism, assuming that they are sacrificing their freedoms for order, but in doing so, they forget that authoritarianism may not bring order even while it takes away freedom, a lesson that many in Russia had learned before 1917 and many in Europe had learned even earlier.

            Three recent cases show that the Kremlin “not only cannot control the next levels down of the state apparatus but does not even know what is going on in the territories” nominally under its control.

            The first case involves Nadezha Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.  Moscow sent her to a place where it assumed she would not suffer very much because senior officials knew that she would ultimately be released and would not be quiet or ignored before or after that event.  But the officials in the camp ignored those calculations and behaved brutally, giving Moscow a PR black eye.

            The second involves the seizure of the Greenpeace ship in the Arctic.  Clearly those who did so failed to recall that Vladimir Putin would be speaking at the Third International Arctic Forum in Salekhard and did not need the distraction.  As a result, these officials “almost buried the Valdai propagandistic achievements” of the Russian president.

            And third, Kemerovo Oblast banned all foreign adoptions, ignoring both Moscow’s obligations under international treaties and the center’s propaganda needs in the run up to the Sochi Olympics, yet another example of the lack of an integral state on the territory of the Russian Federation.

            Indeed, Ikhlov writes, Putinism as a result of such cases is “completely unmasked” as far as its “powerlessness to carry out a consistent policy.”  And it is unmasked in front of those who matter most: more junior officials who are supposed to be its “most reliable agents and who are literally supposed to guess by telepathy the will of the top boss.”

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