Sunday, May 31, 2020

Russia’s Governors have Been Strengthened ‘Only on Paper,’ Kokko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – Despite the paranoid comments of some in Moscow, Dmitry Kokko says, the additional responsibilities Vladimir Putin has given the governors are not going to produce separatism because the central government has not given them sufficient resources or the power to raise them on their own to act independently.

            When Putin told the Federal Assembly that the role of the governors must be expanded, many of them were excited about the possibility, the Russian commentator says; and when he proposed changing the Constitution to include a State Council, some of them expected to play a role in that new body (

            But when it became clear that the amendments were all about allowing Putin to remain in office for as long as he wants, the governors quickly recognized that the Kremlin leader wasn’t planning to decentralize power but rather to concentrate even more in his own hands – and that hasn’t changed with the pandemic.

            What has happened since the onset of that crisis is that the Kremlin has delegated to the governors “not so much authority as responsibility” and without independent resources to act. Moscow is seeking to avoid responsibility; but it certainly isn’t moving to federalize the country as much as so many hope or fear, Kokko says.

            Journalist Maksim Shevchenko concurs. He tells the commentator that Putin views federalism as a bomb that Lenin put under the territorial integrity of the country even though any rational analysis shows that what the Bolshevik leader was about was saving the empire and dealing with the enormous diversity across its territory.

            At the time of the revolution, the non-Russians and many Russians as well were angry at the central government, Shevchenko says. They had good reason. After all, “the Russian Empire was a prison house of peoples, and this is not a metaphor.”  And acting as if the same thing is the case now will only work to make it true.

            What the regions and republics want is not separatism but rather the ability to carry out their responsibilities. Most governors are technocrats or economic managers, not politicians; and they aren’t going to mobilize people against the center in pursuit of any exit from the Russian Federation, he argues.

            The fears some in Moscow have on this point are simply unwarranted paranoia, he suggests. And the unitary system they have and want to maintain is simply designed “in order to finally convert Russia into a colony” disguised by appeals to Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality but designed to be sold off to “English, French or Chinese capitalists.”

            But if paranoia is unwarranted, it is instructive, Shevchenko says. It suggests that “the supreme powers are frightened, have handed over responsibility and put their heads in the sand. This isn’t a step toward federalization but rather an indication of powers lacking confidence in themselves.”

Those Who Could Overthrow Putin Don’t Because They’d Be the Next to Be Pushed Out, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – The unprecedented Russian protest about Putin’s falling ratings in the polls shows just how nervous he and those around him are; but he remains untouched because those who could overthrow him are so deeply a part of his system and are very much aware that they would be next if they got rid of him, Andrey Piontkovsky says.

            In an authoritarian system like Putin’s, the Russian opposition commentator says, the overwhelming majority of Russians who don’t like Putin are not in a position to force him out. They lack the organizational structures and leaders needed to achieve that (

            And the pandemic which has driven down Putin’s ratings to under 20 percent, Piontkovsky continues, has paradoxically reduced their possibilities still further by putting in place “a large number of restrictions and monitoring which will remain after the coronavirus ends” because such arrangements protect the Kremlin leader.

            The only people who could conceivably get rid of Putin are the members of his immediate entourage. They have no illusions about Putin and his standing, but they know something that keeps them from acting: They aren’t outstanding personalities in their own right but creatures of the Putin system; and if he goes, they will soon follow.

            Such people are now caught between two fears: “staying with Putin is horrible because everything is falling apart and he cannot defend them from the anger of the population” but “removing him is terrible because this would mean to wipe out all of the last 20 years and by discrediting him, discrediting themselves.”

            They thus suffer from “a serious cognitive dissonance,” Piontkovsky continues, a mental state that leads them to demand apologies from foreign media outlets who report Putin’s declining standing with the people and to think about ways that Putin could be removed or at least sidelined in ways not damaging to themselves.

            “The simplest method” to get rid of Putin, of course, is to declare that “he has died from a heart attack or the coronavirus.” But that is also the most dangerous because either they would have to stay the course or face the prospect of a serious struggle within the elite with unpredictable consequences.

            Given that calculus, the Russian analyst says, many of them appear to be thinking about creating a state council in which Putin would formally remain but be stripped of any real power, an arrangement that would allow them to go on with the thievery that he has helped them engage in for years but without the popular anger he has sparked.

            For such people, that arrangement would be ideal. In their minds, Putin has always been “a PR instrument created in 1999 in a television test tube,” a phenomenon to serve as a kind of bridge between their kleptocracy and the people, someone who could be presented as “a simple man from the people who will ingather the Russian lands.”

            But now Putin has proved “inadequate” as such a front man, and they are worried. None of their choices is good, but they are clearly considering which may be the worst and which the less bad as the Kremlin leader’s standing with the Russian people continues to sink, Piontkovsky argues. 

Millenials Will Transform Political Arrangements in Russia and the World, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 28 – Because they have values that set themselves radically apart from the current political elites whose members were born in the 1950s and 1960s, the generation known as the millennials will when they become the dominant force in society in a decade or so will transform political life across the globe, including in Russia, Yevgeny Gontmakher says.

            The Moscow economist, who currently is the scholarly leader of the European Dialogue
Group, points to seven ways in which the values of the millennials are different from their predecessors and lists four fundamental, even revolutionary changes, those attitudes are likely to produce (

                The seven distinctive differences of the millennials from the current elite include the following:

·         Millenials do not have political views that correspond to the left-right continuum older people have been accustomed to.

·         They want direct democracy and the decentralization of power.

·         They are concerned about issues often neglected by the current powers that be, including vegetarianism, protection of the environment, and especially a more rational approach to handling trash.

·         They are committed to sharing at the personal and political levels so that all will have enough.

·         They favor state-financed “free” education and health care so that all can have the advantages those things give.

·         They take an active part in franchising and voluntarism.

·         And they favor a universal, state-supplied income to all.

According to Gontmakher, these values will lead to four basic shifts in political life:

1.      “In place of bureaucrats will be people who do not have as their goal their own advancement upwards but rather the realization of personal qualities.”

2.      “Despite the tendency observed now to increase the size of the activity of the state in response to the coronavirus, as soon as the epidemiological situation normalizes, society in countries with developed democracy will not simply return everything to the pas but will shift the compass in the opposite direction.” More power will devolve to local governments and to the people who will exercise more direct control over those above them. He notes that the authors of the 1993 Russian Constitution had the right idea by excluding organs of local self-administration from government power but that advanced thinking has been reversed by Putin.

3.      “Already in the foreseeable future, the network of ‘world cities’ will be much more important than the network of traditional states” which will be left with “only very limited functions,” and “a new wave of globalization will begin, based not on overcoming ‘state borders’ but on systems of resettling people regardless of their national citizenship.”

4.      “All forms of direct (immediate) democracy will grow in explosive fashion,” thereby restoring some of the trust that has been lost in governments.

Such projections of how younger people will act in the future are invariably overstated as many of them will likely become more like their elders as they age. But the pressures Gontmakher points to brought to the table by the millennials are going to shake things up; and the ways he points to are certainly a checklist of things to watch for.