Staunton, March 28 – Russia has been moving backwards since the 1990s, Andrey Degtyanov says. The movement in that direction by the state first towards the pre-Soviet past and then towards a combination of that with the Soviet one that has driven back well before the tsarist period.
That has attracted a great deal of attention and some alarm, the political analyst says; but less attention and consequently less alarm has been generated by a parallel process, the movement of the political opposition centered in Moscow in the same direction with its central issues shifting from democratic rights to the issue of whether the tsar is genuine or not.
And that movement has been accelerated not slowed by the entrance of large numbers of young people into the opposition movement because the only model they have is not that of those in the past who pursued democracy but rather that of those who are opposing the current “tsar” in the name of a “true” one (region.expert/reverse/).
The latest example of the slide toward medievalism by the state is the spectacle of Putin like some medieval prince being asked to rule, as Pavel Luzin has pointed out, an archaism about which more than enough has been written (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/putins-being-asked-to-rule-only-latest.html).
But a similar “process of archaization affected the opposition even earlier than it did the powers that be,” Degtyanov says. Until 2011/2012, the opposition focused on the goals of democracy, on legitimate elections, and even formed a Coordinating Council which it clearly hoped would be the Russian version of Solidarity.
But instead of that, this organization fell apart and the opposition became an underground movement concerned above all with challenging Putin as “the false tsar” and inevitably generating a true “pretender” in the person of Aleksey Navalny, whether he personally wanted this or not.
As a result, after 2013 and even before the emergence of the Crimean consensus, the opposition adopted as its key slogan, “the tsar is not real.” And thus, in large measure, “the authoritarian-personalist character of the presidential autocracy called to live a similarly authoritarian-personalist opposition.”
By 2019 with Putin in his third term, the Kremlin was caught by its own “move to the past,” as was the opposition. “The clear inability of the authorities to create over the last ten years an at least partially working semi-party system transformed the transition in 2024 into a dynastic crisis,” potentially “opening the era of boyar tsars in place of ‘the national leader.’”
Any hypothetical successor was thus “condemned to be not the heir to the throne but someone put forward by this or that boyar grouping,” Degtyanov says. That has thrown Russia back to the times of Boris Gudonov, an especially dangerous development at a time of global epidemics.
In the 17th century, “the war between the boyar tsars and the pretenders ultimately ceased” when “’the deep people’ of the Russian middle ages” came together in support of “self-administration without Muscovite boyars and against them. It is an open question whether something similar might happen again, the analyst says.
Clearly, however, “the lastest cycle of imperial history is rapidly moving toward its end,” thus opening “a window of possibilities” which neither the state mired in the past nor the current Moscow opposition which is mired in that same past seems capable of exploiting. And that means that the future of Russia may be defined not by either but by those beyond the ring road.