Sunday, March 24, 2019

Transitions in Authoritarian States Easy; Transitions in Aggressive Ones Not, Shelin Say

Paul Goble
            Staunton, March 23 – Leadership transitions in authoritarian post-Soviet states and in other authoritarian states abroad have been largely and remarkably peaceful and easy, Sergey Shelin says, prompting the question: why are Russians now so worried about the transition to a post-Putin leadership? 

            The answer, the Rosbalt commentator says, is that Russia not only wants such a shift to be confirmed by the population, reflecting its combination of European and Asian qualities, but has already given in to the temptations of foreign adventures and thus Moscow views aggression as a solution the Kremlin will use in this case as well.

            As a result, many are nervous about the possibility that despite the dangers and high costs, the Putin regime, either to keep him in power for longer or arrange for a transition to a new leader, will embark on a new round of aggression to absorb all of Belarus and/or part of Kazakhstan (

            Many Russians assume that there will inevitably be “grandiose difficulties” in changing one autocrat to another in their country, Shelin says; but “the history of the post-Soviet countries shows that where there is an autocracy, the replacement of even a deified leader who dies suddenly and has not been able to legitimate his successor takes place quickly and easily.”

            Moreover, Russians assume, he continues, that Putin’s replacement must be found soon, although the Kremlin incumbent won’t approach Nazarbayev’s years until the 2030s. Putin thus has plenty of time to put in place arrangements for someone to replace him. But that isn’t the way Russians are talking now.

            They act as if Putin has little time and must hurry, doing something dramatic like seizing Belarus and/or part of Kazakhstan in order to create a new state of which Putin could then become president of.  But that notion is wrong on two counts: Putin doesn’t need to do either to remain or organize a succession, and both actions would be high-risk operations.

            But there are two important ways in which Putin’s challenge is different and greater than Nazarbayev’s, the Rosbalt commentator says. On the one hand, Russian leaders are more concerned about getting popular legitimation than the leaders of Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan.  The latter can thus act completely at will; Putin is always looking over his shoulder.

            And on the other, Shelin continues, Putin having acquired the taste for foreign adventures and used them to “solve’ domestic problems is all too likely to fall into the same pattern this time around. Kazakhstan and China are concerned about development and thus avoiding isolation; Russia isn’t and isn’t.

            That makes Putin’s coming years more frightening not only for Russia but for the countries around it.  

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