Monday, July 22, 2019

Widespread View that Putin Regime is Degrading while Russian Civil Society is Strengthening is Wrong, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – The Russian blogosphere almost unanimously has suggested that the fight over the registration of candidates for the Moscow city council show that “the powers that be are archaic and degrading” while “society in contrast is evolving,” something the writers say “the powers don’t understand” and are in fact “in a state of panic,” Irina Pavlova says.

            But those judgments are completely wrong, the US-based Russian historian says. In her view, it is the opposition which “doesn’t understand with what kind of power it is dealing while the powers know perfectly well how to manipulate it” far beyond the capacity of the opposition to cope (

            What is taking place in Moscow now brings to mind the 2011 election campaign for the Duma, Pavlova says, when the Kremlin quickly brought to heel what seemed to be an overwhelming wave of protest against the Putin regime.  Since that time, she argues, the Kremlin’s political technology skills have only grown.

            This is especially the case with regard to manipulating the rising generation in ways that direct the “anti-powers” energy of the young into directions that ultimately work to the benefit of the powers that be rather than representing any threat to them in ways that recall how Stalin used elections in the late 1930s.

            On the one hand, since 2012, the Kremlin’s political technologies have focused their attention on the young, successfully promoting among their ranks the idea that “the future of the country belongs to them, that civil society is developing, modernizing, and influencing the powers that be forcing it to change course.”

            That leads the young to want to participate “in the modernization of the existing regime” rather than seek to overthrow it, Pavlova suggests.

            And on the other, the current powers that be by constantly shifting course, now advancing, now retreating keeps young people off balance. When it looks as if the powers are going to shut down all protests, they allow a large one; and when it looks like protests are becoming too widespread, the powers that be shut them down.

            That is, the Kremlin like its Soviet predecessors acts in ways that those opposed to it cannot easily take advantage of because as soon as they mobilize on the basis of one set of facts, the Kremlin provides them with a different set – and the opposition confused has to begin all over again rather than build on any successes it may have had.

            Such a tactic, Pavlova continues, “works not only to change the electoral technologies in the country but also to create in the eyes of the world community the illusion of the existence of a civil society capable of influencing the regime.” Those who accept that lie thus conclude that they need not seek to replace Putin because Russian civil society will cause him to evolve.

            Meanwhile, while Russian opposition groups and the West are impressed by the size of the meeting about election registrations in Moscow, the Putin regime has stepped up its application of the criminal code to include not only Articles 280 and 282 but also and more seriously Article 275.

            That article deals with state treason, a category that given the current regime’s reading of this paragraph could be used against “young Russians above all and also against others who are in contact with foreigners.”  That the Kremlin has this intention is suggested by Nikolay Patrushev’s remark that foreign special services and NGOs are seeking to subvert Russian youth.

            Pavlova performs an invaluable service by providing this contrarian position.  She has proved right more often than wrong in the past; and at the very least, her arguments represent a challenge to the prevailing optimism among the Russian commentariat and should be answered rather than dismissed. 

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