Staunton, March 25 – The revival of Russian great power and autocracy is unfortunate, Aleksandr Tsipko says, because it prevents at least for some time any possibility that Russia can escape from the heritage of the Mongol yoke and become a European country. But “but the situation is becoming dangerous because Putin is beginning to believe he is always right.”
The Kremlin leader now thinks “he never makes mistakes” and that even sanctions “provoked by ‘the Russian spring’ brought the Russian people nothing but good” because they forced the Russian people to reflect on who they are and what their relationship with the outside world should be, the Moscow commentator says (ng.ru/ideas/2020-03-25/7_7826_russia.html).
Tsipko says that Putin’s actions, as Vladislav Surkov argues, correspond to the aspirations of “the deep people” who recognize that “under Putin there won’t be anything good but prefer him to a future with unpredictability and indefiniteness.” And that is why the shelling of the Russian parliament in 1993 had similar sources and outcomes to the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly in 1918.
There can’t be any democracy, the senior scholar says, “when it isn’t acceptable to respond to the powers, to argue with them, and even more to criticize them. In this sense, the current political system is one with the Soviet.” And now with Putin set to rule for life, “we have shown the entire world that there is no thing European in us.”
“Our powers are just like those in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They will change only after the death of the national leader,” Tsipko continues. “The frockcoat” of Western democracy that Russia put on in the 1990s to fool the West has now been cast aside.
“Real autocracy cannot be other than lifetime rule,” and that makes March 10 when Tereshkov proposed opening the way for Putin to be openly an autocrat represents “a turning point” in the country’s history. Now the Russian people have been shown that whatever constitution they think they have, it will be changed at the will of this autocrat or his successors.
Indeed, it shows something else: “traditional Russian autocracy is incompatible with a Constitution because a Constitution was created by Europeans to limit the arbitrary power of their monarchs.” When there is no desire to do that as is the case in Russia, having such a document is meaningless.
In some cases, Russian autocrats are limited by their suites or by the Politburo. But “Putin like Stalin has no such limitations. And our fate to a large extent depends on what is happening in the soul and consciousness of Vladimir Putin.”
“The logic here is simple,” Tsipko says. “Russia autocracy is created by autocrats, and therefore one cannot value the great power visions of the state without loving autocrats.” The problem, of course, is that Russia may have risen from its knees but its people live much worse than do their counter parts in democratic Europe.
And that requires an additional feature: “Genuine Russian great powerness presupposes not only lifetime autocracy by the supreme ruler but the obligatory militarization of consciousness” to oppose that supposedly hostile world.
Why did Russia turn away so quickly from its experiment with democracy? Because Russians lack a legal consciousness, a reflection of the tragic fact that “the Russian lives according to the law only when fear forces him to.” Putin with his autocracy is providing that, something the post-1991 regime did not.
Some like Yuliya Latynina see the origins of March 10 in the Torah, but Tsipko argues those events have their origins in Russian history, as Nikolay Trubetskoy outlined in his 1925 essay, “The Inheritance of Chingiz Khan. Russian History Not from the West but from the East” (web.archive.org/web/20080525091753/http://derzava.com/art_desc.php?aid=288).
The political culture of the Muscovites, Trubetskoy wrote, was formed under the Mongols and therefore “the Russians just like their brother Mongols accept only that power which subordinates them to itself entirely and which does not leave to the Russian any rights beside the rights to submit unqualifiedly to the will of the heirs of Chingiz khan.”
Because Putin meets that definition of leadership as the Russian “deep people” accept, Tsipko continues, “we have the complete right to say that Putin, having revived Russian autocracy, has returned Russia to the times of Count Uvarov, to the values of autocracy, Orthodoxy and nationality.”
This also explains the deep divide between Russianness and Ukrainianness because the former is based on submission while the latter is rooted in anarchistic revolt, the Moscow scholar says. And it explains as well the deepening “intellectual primitivization” which is spreading across Russia.
“The current autocracy cannot continue without the militarization of consciousness, without the demonstration of new Russian arms, and without reports about the latest of an infinite series of military exercises.” And in that situation, engaging in serious intellectual contemplation let alone discussion is very, very difficult.
Indeed, those who attempt to do so now are in a less favorable position than were their Soviet predecessors, Tsipko says.
There is no simple way out of the fact that “all Russian life is penetrated by deep contradictions,” he says, between those who want Putin to rule for life and those who see this as opening the way to a new round of tragedy for the country. As for himself, he would prefer Putin for life than a revolution but indicates that the former may lead to the latter.
What he hopes for, Tsipko says, is that Putin and his siloviki will finally recognize that “the Soviet empire has died forever” and that they must “bring the domestic and foreign policy” of Russia into line with that reality. “In the end, it’s time to recognize that the Russian Federation is hardly Russia. Russia without Ukraine and Belarus is Muscovy.”