Sunday, January 31, 2016

Putin Sees Himself as Stalin But He’s Really ‘Half-Khrushchev and Half-Gorbachev,’ Kazakh Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – “Putin would like to see himself as Stalin in the company of Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta,” Azimbay Gali says; but “Putin is not Stalin. He is half-Khrushchev and half-Gorbachev” – and both that split in his perception and reality and that division within himself is likely to have a profound impact on Russia’s future.

            According to the Kazakh historian, “the West will try to categorically not to allow” a new Yalta,” although “a united West will foot Putin by periodically offering Russia a summit and then putting off one like that.” Over time, “the long-suffering quality of the Russian people could end” before any such meeting could occur (

            In an earlier article, Gali argued that Russia is “on the eve of Perestroika-2 or a Russian time of troubles” ( But in this one, explicitly offered as a test of the hypotheses he proposed earlier, the historian suggests that one should not rush to judgment about any radical change.

            He argues that “at the present moment there is not observed what one might call a revolutionary situation.” The authorities are in clear control, and “the dissatisfaction of the population is local and fragmented; and the dissatisfaction of ethnic elites also bears a local character.”

            Russians are now focused on economic issues – how to survive in the current economic crisis – rather than political ones; but “no one knows how big a resource the long-suffering quality of the Russian people is.”  It is likely to continue for some time before it snaps, just as was the case in World War I.

            But the signs that the current war could have the impact the first world war did are not in evidence, Gali says.  Unlike 90 years ago, there is no fraternization on the Russian-Ukrainian front.” Up to now, television programs of both Ukraine and Russia are successfully promoting mutual alienation.” 

            One trend that is worth watching, the Kazakh historian suggests is that “Russians have become more sensitive to military losses and are tired of war,” but despite the impact of the Internet, this has “not yet achieved critical mass.”  Until it does, the war won’t create a revolutionary situation in Rusisa.

According to Gali, the US and the EU want to drive Russia toward economic collapse, isolate Russia economically, split Russia from its remaining allies, promote the idea of a second perestroika, and make Russians more sensitive to military losses. If they succeed, Russia “cannot conduct a serious and long-term war even with a ravaged Ukraine.”

In response, Putin has countered by isolating Russia from the West economically and himself from the leaders of the West, something that has narrowed his “field for geopolitical maneuver.”  Second, he has sparked a new discussion about what Russia’s domestic and foreign policy should be via his new “concept” papers.

In foreign policy, the Kazakh analyst says, the Kremlin leader has promoted the unrealizable idea that Russia can be a dominant player “in the club of great powers,” and he has presented as his country’s right to dispose of everything across the entire post-Soviet space “from the Baltics to Turkmenistan.”

            And in a subject that links domestic policy to this foreign policy vision, Putin has made it clear that for him “Stalin remains a villain but Lenin is worse.” If one considers this in the broadest terms, it is clear that this is “a perestroika-like concept, and this concept has destructive force for Russia” just as the original one did.

            In this situation, Gali argues, analysts and commentators should stop thinking that Putin is the Stalin of today. In fact, he is “half Khrushchev and half Gorbachev,” a combination that in fact means that what the current incumbent of the Kremlin hopes to achieve he is, by his own policies, making all but impossible.

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