Thursday, July 25, 2019

Putin Takes Seriously Only Brute Force and Big Money, Not His Own Impoverished Population, Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – The Kremlin’s actions sometimes appear chaotic and almost driven by chance, but they aren’t, Igor Eidman says. Instead, as in any authoritarian system, they are “subordinate to the interests of the autocrat and are shaped according to his tastes, complexes and stereotypes” (

            According to the Russian sociologist and commentator, “Putin takes seriously only force and big money. Thus, he isn’t afraid of the dependent and poor population of his own country. He is concerned only with those who have serious financial and force resources, above all the West and China and also a few oligarchs and his own immediate entourage.”

            Putin works hard to neutralize these real or invented threats. He works against the West by hybrid penetration of its economic and political systems and against China by playing at friendship and even giving Beijing de facto control over “entire regions” of his own country.  And he does everything he can to make Russian oligarchs dependent upon himself personally.

            At the same time, Eidman continues, “Putin does not take the opposition seriously but behaves in that way toward it only as long as it is poor and powerless and cut off from the power” domestic in the first instance but also foreign as well “and the financial resources” that such links might provide it with.

            Once this is understood, the sociologist continues, Putin’s policies make perfect sense from his point of view.  Eidman gives two examples to make his point.

            First, he says, Putin’s views explain “why Nemtsov was killed but Navalny remains alive and free.” Nemtsov challenged Putin’s power by actively pushing for sanctions by the West, something he could do because of his contacts with Western leaders, and by seeking to organize an anti-Putin movement among the old oligarchs.

            Putin couldn’t tolerate either and so Nemtsov had to be removed from the scene.

            Navalny presents no such threat because he doesn’t have the ties to the West or with members of the oligarchate, Eidman says. In fact, some of what he does plays to Putin’s interests.  The current opposition leader “appeals mostly to the Russian population which Putin doesn’t fear,” and his attacks on oligarchs lead them to view Putin as their protector.

            And second, Putin’s attitudes explain why the authorities pulled back in the case of journalist Ivan Golunov but haven’t in the case of the blocking of opposition figures seeking to run for the Moscow city council. Golunov’s incarceration was conducted by mid-level officials who could be sacrificed to make the Kremlin look good.

            But opposition efforts to get into the Moscow city council are “another story.”  From Putin’s point of view, “the opposition must be cut off from power and financial resources,” something that Moscow deputies have access to, and “opposition figures must be viewed in society as losers.”

            It is not to be permitted in Putin’s view that such people be allowed to achieve anything that could suggest to young people that the opposition is a path to success – “join the opposition and become a deputy” – and thus attractive. 

            Moreover, Eidman points out, what has happened in Moscow has done more to harm the image of the city’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, than to harm Putin’s. In fact, weakening the position of Sobyanin serves the Kremlin leader’s purposes quite well. Yet another potential challenge to his position is thus weakened and quite possibly destroyed. 

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