Friday, February 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Adopts a New Strategy for Governing in an Era of Scarcity

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – The stagnation of the economy is leaving Vladimir Putin without the resources he earlier had to buy off the population and forced him to try to awake in it “an unselfish love for the authorities by using massive brain washing, according to a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg.

            In blog post on, Dmitry Traven argues that Putin in effect is creating his “third political regime.”  His first, which existed between 2000 and 2004 was designed by Aleksandr Voloshin and involved the pushing out of those who had been part of the Yeltsin family and the establishment of Putin’s personal rule (

            The second which lasted from 2004 until the winter of 2011-2012 was organized by Vladislav Surkov, included the Medvedev eraandinvolved “may declaration but nothing changed.” The current third regime can be said to have appeared when Surkov was replaced by Vyacheslav Volodin and is likely to define political life in Russia for the coming years.

`           To understand the nature of the shift that is now taking place, Traven suggests, it is useful to list the key features of the second Surkov period. They include the establishment of state control over television as the most important means of forming public opinion while permitting relative freedom in the Internet, a few papers, and radio stations.

Second, they include the holding of elections on party lists to exclude “the so-called ‘small parties’” with the results guaranteed by the use of television to reach the mass voter. Businessmen were brought into line and those few who weren’t were punished to encourage the others.

Third, the “systemic opposition” was allowed in the Duma “in order to imitate the presence of ‘sovereign democracy,” while ensuring that the Kremlin could dominate the situation there. Each party had a role to play and understood the limits under which it and the others were operating.

Fourth, as insurance if United Russia were to weaken, Surkov created “a reserve party of power” in the form of “‘Just Russia.’” And fifth, and again to give the illusion of democracy, this system allowed Just Russia and United Russia to compete but only for the same Putin electorate and only in ways that did not weaken Putin, against whom no criticism was allowed.

            In doing all this, Surkov did not take into consideration the fact that Just Russia wasn’t prepared to assume such a subordinate position forever and was prepared to beak some of the rules to gain more power. That contributed to the public protests of the intellectuals who were supposed to sit quietly at their computers and watch the Internet.

            That failure of imagination led many to conclude that Surkov had to go, a conclusion that as reinforced by the rising tide of economic problems in the way of the crisis of 2008-2009 and by the recognition that the economy was not going to return soon to a period of rapid growth and that the regime would thus lose one of its most effective resources for maintaining support.

            Indeed, Travin says, the danger arose that the loyal voters whose views were formed by television would eventually find out what was happened and become interested in protests because of the loss of work, pay cuts, and pension reductions; Something new was needed and Surkov had to be replaced.

            Volodin arrived and came up with a six-part system.  First, he recognized that it was “necessary to separate the potential protest of the impoverished Russian boondocks from the protest of intellectual leaders who were waiting for the opportunity to return to the Bolotnaya.” That required the discrediting of the most prominent leaders of the latter in the eyes of the population.

            Second, the third regime required passing laws in which “absolutely everything was prohibited,” the application of which could be used against almost anyone at the regime’s choosing.

            Third, under its terms, the Duma was to work almost constantly because “theme limitations on freedom it established, the greater would be the fear of the simple man of violating one defined norm or other.” Such a mass of laws provided the system with the tools to use against dissent much like those the KGB under Andropov used 30 years ago. 

            Fourth, by separating the intellectuals from the masses, the regime found it easier to impose a new ideology on the latter, an ideology that would both justify how things are and the ways in which the leadership has chosen to move forward.  In this, television would be used to promote public pride and thus public loyality.

            Fifth, the third regime moved to impose these ideological postulates on the schools in order to ensure the rise of a new “correct” generation.  And sixth, although it was no longer possible to buy off the entire population because of the slowing economy, this third regime is predicated on offering the masses circuses and some new leaders bread to ensure loyalty.

            According to Traven, the new system now under construction is both “complex and internally not internally contradictory.  All of its elements support one another, just as was the case with the elements of Surkov’s system.” But its greater harshness reflects the problems of the economy, the lack of money to buy support, and the need to brain wash people into giving it.

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