Staunton, March 17 – The West does not understand Russia, but it does understand very well indeed Russia’s elites; and as a result, it has seriously miscalculated in its dealings with Moscow about Ukraine, according to Boris Kagarlitsky, who argues the elites are ready to capitulate in the face of sanctions but the Russian people never will be.
In fact, the Moscow analyst says, while increasing sanctions may increase the willingness of Russian elites to find compromises, they “not only will not frighten the population of Russia but on the contrary will push” all other Russians in the opposite direction and make them more anti-Western and anti-elite as well (stoletie.ru/vzglyad/elity_gotovy_kapitulirovat_627.htm).
Although the West and the elites assume the population will always be passive, in fact, that is not the case, and popular anger at anything that ordinary Russians view as a capitulation will be something the Kremlin will have to take into account. Indeed, Kagarlitsky says, this divide between elites and masses will form the core of Russian politics in the months ahead.
The Presidential Administration understands this, he says, but the government and even more the Russian liberal elites on whose views the West relies do not. And consequently, the West’s own actions instead of pushing Moscow in the direction it hopes for are in fact pushing the regime in very different ones.
And he argues that in this conflict, Moscow’s liberal intelligentsia will find itself in an ever weaker position because its support of the West on Ukraine means that it “has isolated itself from society and even from those of its strata which a year or two ago were ready to listen to its arguments.”
The West’s sanctions have been “ineffective” and counter-productive in several ways. They have allowed the government to shift the blame from itself to the West for the crisis that was coming in any event. And they have convinced both those in the government and many in the population that everything would have been well if they had just continued on as before.
But while the sanctions could have Moscow with the excuse it needed to get out from under certain harmful WTO restrictions, to seek to boost food production at home as part of its import substitution drive, and to revise its general economic course, that has not happened because of the way in which sanctions have become “an alibi” for the regime.
According to Kagarlitsky, “practice measures for import substitution and the modernization of the economy are not being taken, the development of infrastructure as before is limited to talk about several super-roads and super-ambitious projects which will not give anything to provincial Russia which is suffering from elementary roadlessness.”
There is a reason Russian elites aren’t prepared to do anything to help correct the situation except talk about making concessions to the West: their “way of life, ideology, culture, and private interests” are all in that direction. Their money is abroad and so too are their interlocutors.
They aren’t listening to the Russian people who are unhappy that they are not being given more help but who are insistent that Moscow make no concessions on Crimea as some in the elites are quite prepared to do, assuming as the West does that the Russian people will go along with anything the elites tell the masses to do.
“But,” Kagarlitsky says, “the population of the country is in no way as passive as it seems to bureaucrats in the capital. It is just that so far, the majority of the citizens of Russia prefer not to rock the boat for the completely understandable reason that the people have something to lose” and do not want to take risks.
The people rocking the board, he suggests, are the government bureaucrats “not only when they try to reach agreement with the EU on the lifting of sanctions but also when they conduct all kinds of ‘optimizations,’ which are killing education, health care, science and transportation.”
“Sooner or later,” the Moscow analyst says, “they will have to pay for all of this, and the political price will be extremely high.” For the moment, it is clear that “Russian elites are seeking a compromise with the US and the EU without reflecting about whether they will retain the trust of their own people.”
And he predicts that “very soon they will disscover that the price of such a compromise could turn out to be their own political death.”