Sunday, May 31, 2020

‘Putin has Returned Russia to the 1990s,’ Violating His Chief Pledge to Russians, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 29 – For 20 years, Vladimir Putin has won support from the Russian people because of his efforts to ensure that the country would not ever slip back into the chaos and disorder of the 1990s, but now Russia is doing just that, undermining his support and raising questions about the future, Sergey Shelin says.

            And that means that Russia is going to have to begin again, just as it did in the 1990s, the Rosbalt commentator says but “without freedom, without hope for a bright capitalist future, which was strong at the beginning of that decade and without the hope for a strong hand, which arose at the end” ( ).

            Moreover, “the attempt of the Putin system to cancel everything that happened in those times has led the country to historical failure and that in turn means that the very same path will have to be traversed yet again” and quite possibly, it will be even more difficult the second time around, Shelin suggests.

            Some may be tempted to blame this situation on the pandemic and assume that the country can quickly recover, but that is a mistake, Shelin argues. The problems began more than a decade ago with Putin’s approach that now shows its bankruptcy to anyone who is paying the slightest attention.

            “The chief government promise of the Putin era was never written down as such,” but everyone knew it was that “the 1990s must never be repeated.”  Everything else, including standing up the West, defeating the Chechens or annexing Crimea, was only a demonstration of Moscow’s success in blocking a return to the trends of the 1990s.

            “But history has played a joke on the regime and its leader,” Shelin continues. “Our reality today although not an exact repetition of the 1990s, before our eyes is becoming ever more similar to it” in at least six ways:

1.      The accustomed standards of living have collapsed. That happened in the 1990s and it is happening again.

2.      The masses of the population are again having to search for a new place given the ruins of the system they had operated in earlier. When the pandemic restrictions are lifted, millions will have to find new jobs and even any jobs at all.

3.      Oil prices are falling, eliminating the chance that the regime can help the population.

4.      Government and economic managers are again showing their incompetence in response to a crisis. In the 1990s, these were the red factory directors; but they were gradually pushed out. Now, the new managers are defended by the regime despite their inability to act responsibly.

5.      Again, the population doesn’t trust those on top but now it sees the elite as a far more homogeneous one and thus even less capable of changing course and addressing the needs of the population.

6.      And also again, the country has an aging president who wants to stay in power for life. Putin is now the same age as Yeltsin was when he left office, and many have forgotten that Yeltsin too wanted to remain in place but couldn’t. “There are no signs that the ordinary person wants to see [Putin] as his eternal ruler.” 

Not every Russian sees this yet, certainly not all the denizens of the Kremlin, but this is the looming reality. And both those in power and those in the population can expect some unwanted “surprises” ahead.

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