Staunton, September 26 – Like many other political elites, the Putin regime is seeking to prolong its stay in power forever; but unlike many others, it is undermining the possibility that it will be able to do so by destroying the three factors which might have allowed it to remain in power for some time, according to Lilya Shevtsova.
“The survival of present-day Russian autocracy” depends on three factors, the Russian political analyst says: the ability of the authorities to legitimate themselves in the eyes of the people, the willingness of the elite to remain loyal to the head of the system, and the opportunity to use the West for support given its inability to modernize (svoboda.org/a/28745878.html).
In all three cases, the Putin leadership has shot itself in the foot, a horrific mistake on its part because “the attitude of [Russian society] depends on how this ‘triad’ works.”
First of all, the Putin regime has rejected that which it had earlier insisted upon: its legitimation via elections, Shevtsova says. Earlier it had manipulated results but had used them to justify its power. Now, first by pushing down participation in the local elections and then calling for it to rise in the presidential race, the regime has shown how hollow this process is.
“In both cases,” she writes, “the Kremlin has destroyed the only means at its disposal to receive the broad agreement of the people of its right to rule. There are no other instruments of legitimation of the authorities in Russia.” There is now messianic idea, no monarchy is possible, traditions have been trampled on, and technocracy is impossible because of poor administration.
Not surprisingly, Shevtsova continues, the regime is ever more actively turning to repression, an indication that its core understands its lack of legitimation. In short, “we have a power that has great difficulty in justifying its right to unlimited rule.”
Second, she says, the Putin regime can no longer count on the unqualified loyalty of its own people. Loyalty isn’t given for altruistic reasons but for wealth, power and security. The Kremlin has called all three into question: It doesn’t have the funds it once had, it won’t share power, and it no longer is guaranteeing security even to the top elite.
Arrests of senior officials and especially of Aleksey Ulyukayev have created “a new situation: it turns out that even the highest echelon of the elite cannot feel secure.” Its members are going to ask who’s next and the answer isn’t clear. What is clear is that Putin will do what others in his position have done: appeal over the heads of the elite and then purge it.
Once the Kremlin leader does that, it is “unknown” who will take the fall; but already it is becoming an open question “to what degree Putin himself controls his own ‘vertical.’” To be asking that question is in many ways an answer in itself.
And third – and Shevtsova says this is “the most important” – “the Russian system has always existed by using the resources of its opponent, Western civilization.” That is especially true now when the Russian elite has so many interests abroad, interests that are threatened by sanctions brought on by Putin’s policies.
“Of course,” she continues, “it would be naïve to think that the Kremlin regime is about to fall. There are still not direct threats for the highest echelon of the rulers.” But “the process of the demoralization of the powers that be is ‘in train’ and turning it around is not possible.” And instead, in trying to keep, the regime is undermining the foundations of its own existence.
According to Shevtsova, “the Kremlin is able to maintain the impression of stability only thanks to the spinelessness of the Russian political and intellectual classes, the confusion of society, and the crisis of Western civilization.” But the Kremlin has already managed to frighten those within its own precincts even as it has mobilized the rest of the world against it.
It appears likely that the current powers that be will “continue to dig themselves into a hole,” not because they lack imagination but because “the interests of their survival contradict the interests not only of society but of a anything but small part of the political class.” And that leaves open two questions:
When will that political class become fed up? And will at that moment it turn to the creation of a legal state or instead “again reproduce autocracy” with the only change being the person in charge?