Staunton, February 13 – When Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, Russians shifted the object of their hatred from the Central Asian gastarbeiters in their midst to Ukrainians. If the Kremlin leader were to stop his aggression abroad, he almost certainly would face a resurgence of aggressive hatred within his country, according to Mikhail Dmitriyev.
On the one hand, that pattern means Putin is likely to see violence abroad as a better choice at least for his own survival. But on the other, it means that even during a brief breathing space between his acts of aggression, Russian anger at home could lead to attacks against those Russians may blame for their problems or to a new spiral of protests against the current regime.
Depending on how the Kremlin plays this or whether it can control the situation, such an upsurge in anger among Russians at domestic enemies could push Russia further in the direction of fascism or it could spark protests like those in 2011 which might have the chance to move that country away from Putin’s authoritarianism at home and aggression abroad.
In an article in yesterday’s “Argumenty Nedeli,” Andrey Uglanov cites the economist’s prediction that there will soon be “a change of the aggressive trend of the Russian population from a search for an external enemy” be it Ukraine or the United States “toward a search for an internal one instead” (argumenti.ru/politics/n474/388643).
Given “the sharp weakening of the ruble [and] the rapid growth of prices and unemployment without any hope for the future,” Dmitriyev says, Russians are soon going to be looking for someone to blame not in far-away Washington but “somewhere nearby,” especially at those they are likely to hold responsible for the current domestic economic crisis.
And after suggesting that there is a struggle going on behind the scenes in the power structures between the nationalists and the westernizers over how to deal with increasing anger at home, Uglyanov suggests that one of the first things Putin may feel compelled to do is to sacrifice the current government and the reformers in it as a response.
Among the evidence for that outcome, the analyst says, are Putin’s overriding of the government on electric train routes and the statement of Mikhail Shmakov, the head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, in Putin’s presence which received thunderous applause but then no media coverage.
“The crisis which we are no living through,” Shmakov said, “is exclusively handmade. It has been made by the hands of the neo-liberals who have settled in the financial-economic block of the government and succeeded in tying the Central Bank to them.” Their actions, he added, had only been highlighted by sanctions; but they are the source of Russia’s problems.
Despite the censorship of his speech in the media, the trade union leader would hardly have been likely to make such remarks had he not been aware of “tectonic shifts in Russian domestic policy” that are likely to occur in the near future, Uglyanov says, that will move Russia away from a liberal economic course toward a more statist one.
Putin, he continues, has only a short time to make changes in the government, because “if one conditionally divides all the negative feeling which the citizens of Russia have now,” one finds the following picture: 35 percent blame the declining price of oil, 40 percent Western sanctions, five percent other things, and 20 percent the Medvedev government.
Putin can’t change the first two quickly or easily, but “the simplest thing for the president is to turn that 20 percent of distrust into 20 percent of trust” by forming a new government, one without the billionaires but consisting of “one of the successful governors, the leader of the trade unions or the successful head of one of the state corporations.”
If he does that, the Kremlin leader may succeed in channeling Russian anger at home in a direction that works for him. If he doesn’t, Uglyanov implies, Putin will face a situation in which Russian aggression at home may lead either to new pogroms against despised minorities or to a new mobilization against his own regime.
Of course, although the “Argumenty Nedeli” analyst does not consider this possibility, the coming months could easily feature examples of all these things, with each feeding on the other and leading to a crisis far larger than the one Russia now faces.