Staunton, June 16 – A revolution in Russia “can’t be excluded,” Valery Solovey says; but it is only one of the possible scenarios for the country’s development. But no matter how things do change in Russia, no post-Putin regime will ever return Crimea, although of course Ukrainians will benefit from that development in other ways.
In an interview with Dmitry Malyshko of Kyiv’s Apostrphe news agency, the MGIMO political analyst says that protests are spreading and growing across Russia and becoming more political but they have not yet reached the point of shaking “the towers of the Kremlin” (apostrophe.ua/article/society/2019-06-16/kakoy-byi-ne-byila-v-rossii-vlast-vopros-kryima-zakryit---politolog-valeriy-solovey/26426).
That will happen, however, and perhaps as soon as next year; but in a political system like Russia’s, change is slow. The people remain frightened and prisoners of the illusion the regime seeks to promote that it is powerful and in control of everything. That is beginning to change but only beginning.
Moreover, Solovey says, Russians have to recognize that their problems are not the product of the plans and actions of subordinate officials but of Putin personally. That too is beginning to happen, but it is not as far advanced as many think or as radical changes would require. Unlike Ukraine, he continues, Russia lacks a fully developed civil society.
“A revolution is not excluded,” he says. “But this does not mean that it is inevitable, only that it is highly probable, one of the possible scenarios of the political crisis. That is, in Russia a political crisis is beginning. In 2020, we will see this much more clearly and feel the consequences much better.”
The arrest of more than 500 people in the recent Moscow demonstration shows clearly that “the authorities will attempt to preserve their power, but they will be unsuccessful. For the loyalty of the force structures is falling and will fall very quickly in the future … Some orders [already even senior officers] won’t obey.”
At the same time, it is wrong to expect that the police will go over to the people. Instead, “they will take a neutral position and will together with the Russian Guard sabotage the orders of the leadership,” possibly via “an Italian strike” of some kind with the police saying they can’t take action because of lack of fuel or some other excuse.
Propagandistic suggestions to the contrary, Western governments “will not interfere in the Russian crisis,” Solovey says; “they are very much afraid of it because they do not know what will be the consequences of a hypothetical interference.” There may be violence, but the whole thing may be relatively peaceful as was the case in 1991.
If Putin gives orders that the siloviki won’t obey such as firing into crowds of protesters, Solovey continues. the Kremlin leader will have only one chance to maintain his position – entering into talks with the opposition. He won’t want to do that directly but he may be willing to take such a step if there is no alternative.
Right now, Putin is trying to reverse the degradation of administration across the board, one caused by fears among his own officials and their sense, shared by business and society, that the Putin era is approaching its end.
According to Solovey, this isn’t going to lead to the growth of separatist attitudes anywhere in Russia except perhaps in the North Caucasus. But even there this trend won’t result in a redrawing of borders. Nor is this trend going to lead to a major war by the Kremlin against Ukraine: that would harm Moscow too much.
Solovey argues that Ukrainians are going to benefit from this looming political crisis in Russia because to be “cynical” about it, any weakening of Russia will lead to greater flexibility on Moscow’s part and that is a good thing for Ukraine. And any post-Putin regime will be more positively disposed toward Ukraine that Putin’s is.
But there is one issue on which there will not be any change, the MGIMO scholar says, and that is the status of Crimea. Regardless of what comes after Putin in Moscow, “the issue of Crimea from the point of view of the Russian Federation is closed.” No conceivable Russian government would give it back.
That is because, Solovey concludes, Crimea “occupies a special place in Russian culture and Russian history.” Even if it should happen that “the most ultra-liberal” president succeed Putin in the Kremlin, he or she “will be forced to recognize this inheritance.” Ukrainians need to recognize that reality too.