Sunday, July 8, 2018

New Challenge for Russian Elites: The Russian People are Tiring of Putin, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 7 – No Russian elite has ever privatized the state into its own hands as much as the current one which combines power, property, and the repressive apparatus, depends on Vladimir Putin to hold things together, and wants to transfer this “property” to its children, Lidiya Shevtsova says.

            That problem isn’t immediate, the Russian analyst says. Most of this elite is still young enough that it can run things for another decade or more. But another problem is: “Where is the guarantee that Putin will be able to remain leader for eight to ten more years? There is no such guarantee” (

                “The people are beginning to rapidly tire of him,” and that creates a serious: how to select and impose “a new Putin” to ensure that the “privatized” state can be handed on to the heirs of the current rulers.  That is the kind of challenge that has sunk other authoritarian countries and could do the same to Russia.

            According to Shevtsova, “the ruling corporation has every reason for being concerned. Our owners of the state are coming to see a bitter truth: the system which they have raised up cannot have an heir who could guarantee the transmission of ‘power and property,’” she says. Even Putin who was given power did not save status of any but a narrow group of the family.

            Instead, he “created his own ruling ‘vertical,’” something dictated by “the logic of personal power.” He was able to do this without bloodshed not only because of the cowardice of the political class but also by the superfluity of resources and technological means at his dispose for “the strengthening of a new unified power.”

            Today, “the situation has changed,” Shevtsova argues.  The same resources aren’t there anymore. And that means this: whoever comes after Putin “will seek legitimation of his power by placing all the blame for what is bad on his predecessor” and “the more he will be involved in the old corporative elites, the more he will do so to show is lack of debts before the past.”

            That is how Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, and Gorbachev all behaved. That is the logic of power: what can you do?” But, she continues, “this logic forces one to doubt in the firmness of the system of the repressive oligarchy which today has made the Russian state its personal property.”

             Here is the irony, she says. “The reproduction of an autocracy with a new leader at its head is still possible – but only via the destruction of the present regime along with all its pillars,” the very people who want to continue to be the owners of the state and who have no interest in being destroyed.

            After Stalin, this process went relatively peacefully because “the Soviet elite learned to gain legitimacy without cruelty toward the families of the previous rulers. Today a different situation has arisen: taboos and ‘red lines’ have been destroyed.” Those in power one day may be in prison the next.

            But the use of repression in this way has a “boomerang” effect because it means that those who may be victims are more ready to victimize their opponents when it becomes possible. “A peaceful transfer of power requires from the ruling elite an understanding that it is not necessary to set itself in concrete and try to extend itself forever.”

            Indeed, Shevtsova argues, “the Kremlin, cementing itself in power forgets that concrete has to be blown up, and the explosion may blow apart not only the power arrangements but even the state itself.”  The efforts of the state corporation to extend its life through its children shows the way it hopes to work, but the logic of the situation is against it.

            What should the children of the elite do? Shevtsova asks rhetorically. In her view, they should “run” as soon as possible and “better change their last names as well.”

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