Staunton, July 16 – As long as Moscow had money coming in from the sale of oil abroad, it was able to buy off regional elites and the Russian people, Anatoly Vasilyev says; but now that supply has ended, the Russian government has cut back its payments to the regions, is seeking additional sources of income, and is suffering “an erosion of central power.”
In “Apostrophe” yesterday, the senior Ukrainian analyst says that many small and mid-sized businessmen are being squeezed by the state, that Russian citizens are having to pay ever more for services even as their incomes drop, and that both the population and regional elites are anything but pleased with this situation (apostrophe.com.ua/article/world/ex-ussr/2015-07-15/kak-donbass-i-kryim-razrushayut-rejim-putina/1979).
To date, Vasilyev says, Russia’s economic crisis “has created a favorable basis for local protests,” although to date, these have “not a political and an economic character.” But the possibility, even likelihood that these will take on a political character in time is suggested by what is happening in the North Caucasus
There “a low intensity conflict” continues unabated, one that risks becoming “a delayed action mine” under Russia as a whole because of reductions in Moscow’s supply of money to the leaders of the republics in the North Caucasus. Indeed, there are already “signals” from there about what lies ahead for Moscow and the Russian Federation.
First, Vasilyev writes, it is already the case that “in Chechnya and Daghestan, the majority of cadres decisions are in fact made without reference to Moscow,” an arrangement that both reflects and exacerbates the center’s declining control. Second, “ soial problems, corruption and ineffective institutions” are “increasing the attractiveness of radical Islamic ideology.”
And third, there is in the North Caucasus as there soon will be “a latent conflict between federal bureaucrats and local elites,” a conflict Moscow has kept in check only because it has had enough money to buy people off. Now, it doesn’t; and that has become “a driver for the further disintegration of the Russian Federation.”
Vladimir Putin reached his apogee in 2013, but the impact of his occupation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine accelerated all the economic and hence political problems that had been building up since the start of the crisis in 2008. Indeed, Vasiliyev says, those moves have led to “irreversible processes that will lead to the destruction” of his regime and his country.