Staunton, September 7 – At the center of most Russian discussions today is the question “What will Russia be like after Putin?” Tatyana Stanovaya says. But in fact, she continues, “it is already possible today to observe a situation in which the president is ceasing to fulfill his traditional arbitrage functions” and thus to see what a Russia without Putin would be like.
In a commentary for the Republic portal (republic.ru/posts/86235, the Moscow analyst says that during the last week alone, there have been three serious conflict situations in which Putin did not play the role of initiator and did not intervene to resolve them to the benefit of one of the sides.
These include the situation around director Kirill Serebrennikov, Ramzan Kadyrov’s statements about Myanmar and his willingness to oppose Moscow if it didn’t oppose the mistreatment of the Muslims there, and the legal fight between Rosneft and Systema (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55535)
Many commentators concluded that “beginning in 2014,” Putin almost completely focused on foreign policy issues; but in 2016, he returned to domestic issues by engaging in a reordering of cadres to make governing simpler and less politicized for himself and “more self-administering.”
In the recent cases, Stanovaya says, Putin’s removal of himself from conflicts within the system has become “still more expressed” with the Kremlin leader often acting as if he weren’t in any way involved, had a personal view about some of them, but was not going to resolve the situation by laying down the law.
Stanovaya observes that it is clear that “conflicts within the system ever more often are arising without any participation by Putin,” a major change from the early years of his rule. “Each step them, each movement was under presidential control and resolved exclusively by him” down to the smallest detail.
“Now,” she continues, “conflicts arise throughout the entire vertical as a rule at the initiative of the major players,” and Putin “not rarely” is hardly involved or even completely informed until very late. “Tensions arise without Putin and without his strategic interest,” and that means that the Russian system has changed in fundamental ways.
In the three cases this week, Stanovaya continues, the Kremlin leader, on the one hand, “did not support either side of the conflict in public,” and on the other, “we do not see any manifestation of his own position or emotions” about the case.
In this new situation, “initiators of conflicts have greater freedom, ‘the implementers’ have more opportunities for creativity … Each side now will act on the basis of its own assessment.” And that is because “Putin’s new role” means he has ceased to be “the arbiter-judge” and become instead an outside observer.
In this way, Stanovaya argues, “the personal role of Putin is being devalued. Now, if people in masks come to you, one has to ask whether one should seek redress at Putin’s office or whether there is in fact any sense in seeking the defense of such ‘a guarantor’?” Indeed, it is becoming clear that “Putin is no longer giving anyone any guarantees.”
Chances for getting his attention and support arise “only in those cases when the issue involves Putin’s agenda – and that is everything to do with geopolitics.” Otherwise, there is no certainty anymore. That of course is one of the reasons so many issues are discussed in terms of their geopolitical dimensions.
“In the near term,” Stanovaya argues, “the number of intra-elite conflicts in Russia will grow rapidly,” with latent ones breaking out into loud public ones. Political struggles will take place in court cases and raids as the main “internal mechanism[s] of the resolution of conflicts without Putin.”
That in turn means, she says, that “the significance of force, financial and administrative resources, of judges, procurators, and investigators will grow sharply” and Putin “in a short time may turn out to be not a demiurge but a boring figure in the background” whose attitudes will not determine outcomes.
This is how, Stanovaya claims, already “under Putin, a post-Putin Russia is being born.”