Monday, January 1, 2018

Three Surprises in 2017 Russia Must Live With in 2018

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Despite the expectations of many, Sergey Shelin says, the past year has not been as dramatic in Russia as the three immediately preceding; but there did occur three surprising developments with which the country must cope in 2018: continuing economic decline, the regime’s loss of the youth, and the Kremlin’s fears of its ability to control the past.

            First of all, the Rosbalt commentator says, many beginning with the regime initially expressed their belief that the Russian economy was coming out of the crisis; but it soon became clear that if it was no longer falling, the economy was not set to grow either and would remain stagnant into 2018 ( ).

                That stagnation given what is happening elsewhere in the world means that Russia will fall further and further behind most countries, and that development in turn, Shelin suggests, will add pressure on the regime to look for “some kind of new model of government economic behavior.” Indeed, that may be the defining feature of the coming year.

            Second, and more dramatically, the Russian government for the first time lost the country’s young.  “The street actions which took place in the spring and summer” are “only a symptom of this turning away” from the government, a development that is “one of the most important for the entire late Soviet and post-Soviet decades.”

                Perestroika and the reforms after 1991 were the work not of the young but of the middle aged, “and only in 2017 did all this begin to change literally in front of our eyes,” to the surprise of both the regime and specialists on youth attitudes.  Only opposition figure Aleksey Navalny appeared to recognize this shift and even based his campaign on it.

            “Having lost the youth in 2017,” Shelin continues, “the regime reacted to this in the same way that it responded to the loss of the intelligentsia in 2011 or in general to any difficulties be they moral, online, industrial or financial with a Bacchanalia of increased control, supervision, and monitoring, not with even the smallest effort to recognize or change its archaic nature.”

            The Kremlin did try to suggest that it was appointing a new generation of technocrats to positions of authority, but it quickly became obvious that these people were even more “indifferent to the people than their predecessors were. They cannot pretend to any public authority” because trying to gain that is now “strictly prohibited.”

            The third surprise, Shelin says, was perhaps the  most unexpected of all and superficially appeared distinct from the other two but in fact was not. That was the failure of the regime to commemorate in a massive way the centenary of the revolutions of 1917, a commemoration that many had expected for some years.

            But instead of doing so, the regime simply went silent, a reflection of the judgment at the top that any moves by it could be “poorly received by the masses” and create a dangerous situation in which many Russians would begin to question the adequacy of their rulers not a century ago but now.

            “In the eyes of the powers that be, the revolutionary jubilee was distinguished from the only problems only by the fact that it was technically easier to ignore than the banking crisis or the street demonstrations,” Shelin suggests.

                These three surprises marked a year in which the regime did not suffer the major failures many had expected but also “could not achieve any successes either.”  Instead, for the last 12 months, the regime has marched in place, thus pushing the country ever further into a dead end as ever more people could see. But “what the eyes feared, the hands continued to do.”

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