Saturday, July 27, 2019

Putin Regime Relies Less on Direct Use of Force than on ‘Moral Corruption,’ Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – Compared to the average authoritarian regime, Aleksandr Skobov says,  Putin’s rule depends “not so much on the direct use of force as on the moral corruption of society,” on the cultivation among the population of a sense that any resistance is both senseless and hopeless and that people simply have to find ways of going along. 

            As long as the Russian people and especially those who position themselves as opposition groups buy into that view, the Russian analyst says, Putin and his regime don’t need to use much force to keep everyone in line. They can count on the population and the elites to do that for them (

            The arrests this week after the protest in Moscow have led many to suggest that the Putin regime is getting ready to shift “to a qualitatively new level of repressiveness,” Skobov says, in many cases forgetting that “up to now the Putin pakhanate has presented itself as a most liberal form of authoritarian regimes and hasn’t gone beyond the framework of ‘imitation democracy.’”

                Until now, the amount of “direct internal political force” the Putin authorities have employed has been much more modest than any average authoritarian dictatorship of the 20th century both in terms of the number of political prisoners and the level of criminalization of opposition activity,” the Russian analyst says.

            The Kremlin hasn’t had to, he continues, because of what he calls “the pathological law-abidingness of those Russians who are protesting.”  The leaders of the protests seem to believe that their goals can be achieved by reaching agreements with those in power and being allowed a few seats in city councils or the Duma.

            The powers that be can’t tolerate any expressions of opposition in these venues, Skobov says, and have systematically worked to exclude them, first in the Duma and now in the Moscow city council, a reflection of its own “egotism” and something made possible by the willingness of so many to go along.

            “Putin’s Russia,” Skobov reminds, “is ‘a mafia state’ based on a system of illegal agreements, illegal because they presuppose agreement with the actions of the authorities when they act directly in opposition too formally existing laws.” Any agreement with them is one of “a bandit with his ‘victim.’” 

            “The mafia system is reproducing feudal social relations … based on unequal agreements,” he says, a system which represents reviving in a radical way “the medieval strata-corporative model” as the fascists did in the 20th century.  Putin both instinctively and quite consciously is seeking to restore “a medieval model of the state.”

            But there is one distinction, Putin’s medievalism is intended to ensure his unlimited power and insulation from any direct criticism in the halls of parliament or of power. He has succeeded as far as he has because his system isn’t based on direct use of force but rather “the moral corruption of society” by promoting the notion that only he and not society can act.

            Negotiating with someone who has that goal is a path to nowhere.  And yet that is what some who protested against being excluded as candidates for the Moscow city council are doing by reducing their demands as they have in the hopes of getting an agreement with powers that have no plans to yield on anything.

            “If the present leaders of the protest allow themselves to become involved in such ‘a compromise,’ this will be their political suicide.  They will automatically cease to be leaders of protest” and the powers that be will treat them as what they have becoming willing or unwilling co-conspirators with those in power.

            These leaders have concluded that they have to play by the rules the regime sets or “things will be worse.”  But they need to recognize that 24,000 protesting on Sakharov Prospekt is apparently today the limit of Moscow’s protest potential.” And that isn’t enough to force the authorities to make any real concessions.

            “But it is already too much for the powers that be to fail to take notice of it. It has become too noticeable for others,” and so the authorities have arrested more.  Moreover, the powers that be will continue to do so in order to show who is boss. Among the additional steps may be the complete criminalization of protest, allowing them to detain people much longer.

            The authorities can disperse a meeting of 20,000, “and even if they do this much more harshly than they have done up to now, the angry masses will not get rid of them the next day.” And that leads to the most important lesson Russian opposition leaders need to learn, Skobov concludes.

            “Victory will come only to those who are ready to go into battle without the hope of victory.  As a first step in that direction,” the commentator says, they must show themselves willing to break some windows to call into question the image Putin has promoted of himself as all-powerful and the people as totally dependent on him.

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