Wednesday, March 21, 2018

West Must Learn to Live Alongside a Dangerously Ill Russia in Its Agony, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – The chief result of the so-called Russian presidential elections was “the final conservation of an archaic and reactionary regime, one like the Soviet Union it has become and, like that state, fated to suffer a death agony and collapse at some unknown future point, according to Vitaly Portnikov.

            But because no one can specify “when, how and under what circumstances with Putin or already after him” this end will come, Russia’s neighbors and the West “simply must learn to live alongside this dangerous sick man” of Eurasia (

            Putin “won” these elections because he promised to maintain the stability Russians crave given how much instability they have had in their lives and how shaky they really believe the situation in their country to be.  The question which must be asked, however, the Ukrainian commentator says, is “just what is this Russian stability?”

            The facts of the case are these: “In Russia, ‘stability’ – that is the unchanging nature of the regime – almost always exists with the exception of short periods of wars and crises,” but each new ruler declares the past to have been unstable in order to frighten Russians and justify their support of him, Portnikov says.

             Thus, he continues, “Brezhnev declared the Khrushchev era a time of instability even though he and other members of the Politburo who removed the unpredictable Nikita Sergeyevich were products of that era.  Under Putin, ‘the wild 1990s’ have been declared the era of instability, despite the fact that the new president and the rest of the leaders of Russia emerged from them.”

            It cannot be excluded, he suggests, that “some successor of Putin’s will declare the present-day historical period one of instability and turbulence. But until then, Russians are certain that this is stability because stability [in the Russian case] is not connected with the situation or their own situations or with the actions of the authorities but with Putin himself.”

            As long as the leader says there is stability, it exists.

            That is one of the reasons why “the agony of authoritarianism is a long, difficult and unpredictable process and we must simply learn to live alongside this dangerously sick man” of Eurasia.

            The readiness of Russians to support whatever their ruler decides on “at first glance would appear to create the conditions for the new old president to maneuver.” But what Putin will in fact do is something “no one knows today, including if you will Putin himself,” the Ukrainian commentator says.

            What would seem logical to others may not be logical to him.  While many would think he would benefit from compromising with the West, Putin may conclude that “an aggressive policy will help him avoid even the specter of competition and weakness domestically and convert Russia internationally into a kind of alterative to the West.”

            To the extent that is the case, Putin may decide to cross “ever more red lines everywhere” to make himself into what he aspires to be however much it harms his country and its future. That may keep him in power for a long time, but it means something else that both he and others must recognize.

            Putin isn’t going away on his own ever. He can be removed from power only if his system and the fake stability it is based on go through a period of genuine instability leading to regime change.  That happened to his beloved Soviet Union. With Putin, it can eventually happen to the Russian Federation as well.

                In the meantime, Ukrainians and others in the West must learn to deal with a dangerously ill and thus dangerously unpredictable Russian leader who has nuclear weapons which he clearly believes mean that he never has to admit he is wrong or say he is sorry.

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