Sunday, September 9, 2018

Kremlin Taking Money from Population to Defend Itself against Divisions in Elite, Lev Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 9 – The main danger to the Putin regime is not popular unhappiness but rather a division in the ruling elite and so the regime is “preparing for the worst” by taking money from the population so that it will be in a position to continue to ensure the continued support of key elite groups, Levada Center director Lev Gudkov says.

            In a long interview with Artur Amelin of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, the sociologist devotes less attention to popular attitudes, including the overwhelming rejection of Putin’s plan to raise pension ages, than to the nature of the Kremlin leader’s system and why it is taking such an unpopular step and will take even more in the future (

            “Over the period of Putin’s rule, there has occurred not simply a selection but a qualitative change in the political class. The ruling elite now has been formed out of absolutely servile, cynical, incapable and irresponsible people capable of only responding to their bosses” rather than to the needs of the population, Gudkov says.

            These officials, he continues, “absolutely do not understand in what country they are living. When I tell bureaucrats that the average income of the Russian family is today 38-40,000 rubles (550-580 US dollars) a month, they respond with surprise that it is impossible to live on those amounts.”

            “An enormous segment of the population of Russia is trying simply to physically survive,” he continues. “At the very same time, the ruling elite is absolutely depraved by corruption, not in the sense of bribes but rather by access to money flows.” Nor surprisingly, ordinary Russians are angry.

            But the regime “exists in a different dimension than the population. The process of degradation is taking place but it could take a very long time. The system has been established, and it works and it will work even after Putin  because he did not create it. Rather, he and it “established one another.”

            Personally, Gudkov says, “I do not see any forces that could today change this situation. In my view, we are in the course of a very length process of the disintegration of the totalitarian system. In 1991, there was one phase, but now there is another.” Parts of the Soviet system collapsed then, “but the organization of power, the system of education, the army, the FSB and so on remained what they were.”

            “In the immediate future, “nothing is going to occur with them,” the sociologist argues.

            Russians “have lost faith in the future,” and many officials have lost the ability to govern effectively. But there is no basis for talking about an approaching “revolutionary situation.” The regime is too entrenched, and it has managed to marginalize all the figures who might lead one and destroy all organizations that might bring people together.

            The policies of the authorities now are “directed at extracting money from the population” not because the regime had  no choice but to do so – it could have diverted spending from defense and so on – but because it is preparing for the worst case scenario, one that it has brought on itself, Gudkov continues.

            In principle, the Kremlin might have bought itself some time by moving to improve relations with the West and thus having sanctions eased. But “up to now, the entire foreign policy of Russia about blackmail and forcing the West to compromise on Moscow’s terms.” Consequently, tensions are growing and Russia “is being transformed into an outcast.”

            Unfortunately, “there are no reasons for something to change” in that regard; and “the Kremlin recognizes this.” Now, Gudkov says, “it is preparing for the worst.” It is extracting money from the population and spending it on the modernization of the army, on the police, and on the defense of the oligarchs.”

            “This is absolutely logical,” the sociologist continues, “since the main danger for this regime today is not from the masses but a split in the ruling elite.” And that is a real danger: “If the oligarchs rose against the Kremlin, they could without any problems organize the population to meet their needs.”

            Hence diverting money from the population which may be angry but can’t organize to threaten the regime to the oligarchs and those tied to them who could threaten the regime if they decided to makes eminent sense, even if it also means that as things get worse for the Kremlin internationally, the Kremlin will make things worse for the Russian people at home. 

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