Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Moscow Talk about 2024 Ever More Resembles Discussions at End of Soviet Times, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – “The latest news about 2024” – that is, about the possibility of continuity and succession in Russia – “ever more clearly recalls the last years of the Soviet Union,” Andrey Kolesnikov says, when everyone was talking about shifting power and maintaining control. But now as then, this talk is sparking fears in the elites.

            The Moscow Carnegie Center scholar says that as a result, many of the proposals are more about preventing problems than about solving them, something that may put off the day of reckoning but does not mean it will not come (forbes.ru/obshchestvo/380097-elbasy-vseya-rusi-kto-stoit-za-novostyami-o-sohranenii-vlasti-putina-posle-2024).

            “The nervousness of the elites is becoming ever more obvious, Kolesnikov continues, especially because current economic arrangements aren’t working and “in a state capitalist system, there are no sources of development other than the government.”  And that government is only able to take more from the population and give to its immediate friends.

            “On such a model,” the analyst suggests, “you won’t go far, and from this arises the agitation of the financial and economic elites.”

            But they aren’t the only ones agitated. The siloviki establishment is upset by the Kremlin’s decision to punish it for its actions in the Golunov case, and the official party of power knows that it has become toxic. Everyone in the political system is fleeing from it as from “an island where leprosy has broken out.”

            And in this situation, Kolesnikov says, “everyone with hope is looking toward the Kremlin” but not getting any signals about how things might change for the better. The tsar remains calm and behaves as anything but “a lame duck,” however much some are ready to proclaim him one. 

            Those at the top of the Russian system want Putin to remain in power as do many “young (and comparatively young) technocrats who have never had any other boss, and all these ‘leaders of Russia’ are focused exclusively on one leader,” an entirely normal pattern for autocratic regimes whose leaders are aging and may leave the scene unexpectedly.

            “The elites have no basis – in any case up to now – to suppose that Putin will leave,” the Moscow Carnegie Center researcher says;  and that in turn means that “the preparation for elections or for something that will replace them inevitably is beginning now five years before the transition year.” 

            Parliamentary elections are only two years away, and they are taking place at a time when “the imitation party system with its imitation opposition” that has existed since 2014 is “in fact withering away” and that the regime is making no effort to create alternative political parties in the way that it did in the past.

            All this is focusing attention on whether Russia will follow the Kazakhstan path in which the real leader will not be the formal one or the Armenian one in which executive power will shift from the president to the prime minister.  Both are problematic, but the second is potentially explosive in Russia, the analyst suggests.

            For Russia, he argues, “parliamentary reform” – the Armenian variant – “makes sense only if some kind of variant with the immediate departure [of the leader] or elections is in place on some kind of extraordinary basis.” Otherwise it will spark protests and may fail utterly to maintain continuity.

            “But something must work,” Kolesnikov says. Otherwise there is a risk as at the end of Soviet times, that the entire house of cards could collapse. Thus, all the talk about “preventive measures” rather than about “cures.”

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