Saturday, April 25, 2020

Analysts in Russia Divided on Whether Russia is Moving Back to the 1980s

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Analysts in the Russian Federation are divided as to whether the Russian Federation of today is returning to the crises of the 1980s and whether Putin’s Russia today is where Brezhnev’s Soviet Union was at the start of that decade or closer to what Gorbachev’s was just before its disintegration.

            Ramazan Alpaut, a journalist with the IdelReal portal, spoke with three analysts who think this analogy is correct and provides a basis for understanding what is happening in their country now and one who rejects this analogy, arguing that conditions now are fundamentally different (

            Marat Lotfullin, a Kazan historian, says that today’s “economy situation is approaching that of the USSR at the end of the 1980s. But in contrast from those   years, Western countries have already freed themselves from their illusions” about Russia’s possibilities. For them, the situation is more like the early 1980s, not the end of that decade.

            Abbas Gallyamov, a Moscow analyst and commentator, also sees a great deal in common between the two periods. “The main characteristics, of course, correspond. An ever-larger number of people feel alienated. The powers no longer take the people into consideration. The demand for participation, for new ideas and alternative figures is growing” just as in the 1980s.

            And Boris Vishnevsky, vice president of the Yabloko Party, agrees there are commonalities but that the optimism which informed the late 1980s is not present now and the prospects for the future may thus be far more dire. Ever more people see the economic crisis in political terms and believe solutions are impossible “without a change” at the top.

            But Moscow analyst Konstantin Kalachev says that the differences between the 1980s and now are greater than the commonalities. “Then the authorities were broadening the limits of freedom. There was an entirely different public atmosphere. Everyone read thick journals and dreamed about a better future.”

            Now, Russians dream not about freedom but about having enough food. They are far less concerned about rights than those of 35 years ago.  That suggests there are two scenarios ahead, Kalachev continues. In the first, “the quarantine ends but the depression remains.” If that happens, then economic problems will grow into social and political ones.

            That could be “really dangerous” for the Kremlin “because it would create a demand for alternative figures and a changed course” and would involved a growth in protest activity.

            In the second, there will be “a sharp emotional upsurge after being saved from the virus and minimal losses.” People will be celebrating that “’we survived’ and can return to normal life.” That could lead to greater not lesser support for Vladimir Putin and his constitutional reforms and political course.

            Kalachev says he is more inclined to believe that the former is likely than is the latter, but in either case, the outcome is unlikely to be the same as it was in Gorbachev’s times.

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