Tuesday, January 28, 2020

‘In Russia, Thaws are Only Short Intervals Between Political Winters,’ Kazarin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – Many expected the openness of Russia in the 1990s to change the country in fundamental ways; but the succeeding 20 years of Vladimir Putin’s role shows how little it did and how much Russia remains what it was earlier, according to Ukrainian journalist and commentator Pavel Kazarin.

            Indeed, what has happened not only reaffirms what many have long believed that “in Russia, thaws are only short intervals between political winters” but that the system Putin has succeeded in creating has every chance to outlive him and leave Russia much less changed than many hope (ru.krymr.com/a/pavel-kazarin-putin-vmesto-putina/30390665.html).

            And that in turn means, Kazarin argues, that both residents of Russia and everyone else, including Ukrainians and the West, must be prepared for that, especially since “in the final analysis, it is always been to be mistaken in a pessimistic prognosis of the future than in an optimistic one.”

            Historians inevitably write the history of Russia in terms of the dates of its rulers, an approach that emphasizes changes from one to another rather than the continuities that underlie almost all of them. And the longer one of these rulers is in power, the longer his shadow is likely to fall on Russia after he leaves the scene.

            Putin has been in office 20 year, he continues, and as a result, “people who grew up in the USSR have been replaced by those who grew up under Vladimir Putin. The experience of the life of the country under his rule is the experience of their personal lives.”  And that is more important that propaganda, however possible.

            “Propaganda may be changed, but the experience of survival and living through political realities remains and together with that, all the imperial resentment, the phantom pans, and ideas about the motives of both their nearest neighbors and those who are further away,” Kazarin argues.

            “In the end, it was not the Russian president who imposed the idea of revenge on society. More, it dictated what he said which guaranteed him success with the public” which retained and even became more attached to that notion. 

            “We often talk about state propaganda as a Colossus with feet of clay” and to suggest that it is only necessary to change its messages in order to change those who deliver and hear them.  “But the experience of Russia itself dispels this illusion.” Propaganda changes, but certain constants remain.

            Kazarin notes that “in the a 1990s, its media was competitive, oppositional and refelected the most varied parts of the political spectrum. But this decade of disagreements didn’t defeat the idea of revenge. Attitudes which were considered dead, survived their grave diggers” and rose as it were supposedly from the dead. 

            Consequently, “in the final analysis, “in Russia, thaws are only short intervals between political winters,” which should force us to reflect upon what has changed and what has not so as to be able to predict what is unlikely to change in the future.

            “In its current format,” Kazarin continues, “the existence of Russia is condemned to move along its well-learned imperial algorithm. With all its attributes of ‘bonds,’ ‘state greatness,’ and expansion.” For 300 years, it has had as its “theoretical, philosophical, and cultural” foundations laid for that to continue. The occasional dissidents don’t change that.

            And “all talk about a foreign threat is produced by Moscow itself, because that very collective ‘West’ which the Kremlin frightens its voters least of all wants the disintegration of the country. Even at the end of ‘the Cold War’ … the American leadership was ready to urge Ukraine not to pull out of the imperial embrace.”

            Fear of nuclear weapons trumped all other concerns, including the possible infliction of “the final defeat of its competitor.” That hasn’t changed either.

            “In the eyes of that very ‘West,’ Russia already is not an alternative center and not the source of the main threat. It is only a major state on the periphery which is not included in Western civilization politically but is completely part of it economically. Like Turkey or Saudi Arabia.”

            It may create problems, but it isn’t by itself the threat it used to be. And in this situation, “the present-day generation of Western politicians is frightened much more about a repetition of 1991 than Russian television suggests.” Chaos is growing throughout the world, and Western countries don’t want to see it expand even more, given the negative economic consequences.

            For both these domestic and foreign reasons, “the Russia which Putin has build has every chance too survive him, simply because it has been able to shut down protests within, escape from the image of ‘the main problem’ abroad and succeeded in using force in all directions in the hoes of surviving a period of global turbulence.”

            “In this new reality,” Kazarin concludes, “we can only guess what the fate of Ukraine will be. The times are putting before us challenges for which no one is now prepared.” In this situation taking a longer view and a more pessimistic one is appropriate. Doing otherwise could prove disastrous.

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