Saturday, July 18, 2020

Kremlin’s Tactical Approach to Retaining Power Undermines Regime’s Long-Term Stability, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, July 16 – The Putin regime has created an existential crisis for itself and country over which it rules by adopting tactics to prolong its stay in powers that increasingly have the effect of undermining the stability of the Russian state and society on which it relies, Liliya Shevtsova says.

            The regime is so committed to its own survival “at any price” that it is taking short term decisions designed to ensure that which already are showing larger and longer-term consequences that run in exactly the opposite direction it wants things to go, the Russian commentator says (

            That does not mean that the regime is about to fall. To predict that is “naïve,” Shevtsova says. It still has enormous “administrative, force, and propaganda resources,” and its targeted repressions are working. But at the same time, it is impossible not to see something else: the stability it likes to talk about has become “a myth.”

            Putin’s amendments of the constitution make him “the Ruler” but they don’t ensure that he will have autocratic powers. It only puts off into the future the tensions that have existed since Yeltsin’s time which simultaneously created the position of “Ruler” but “did not ensure that there would be autocracy. That is something that requires continuous actions.

            But the question remains: how stable can this arrangement be if the man who is supposed to be the guarantor of the Constitution becomes “tired or the country becomes tired or his resources run out?”

            According to Shevtsova, moreover, “the concentration of authority in the hands of the individual who is the personification of the system leads to the annulment of all branches of power and all elites which could serves as lightning rods.That leaves the ruler in an unbearably difficult position, one that whether he recognizes it or not, will compromise his goals.

            Doubts are already arising about “the existence of ‘the Putin majority.’” The Kremlin leader can control those who work for the state most of the time, but even among those, like doctors who are treating the coronavirus, there arise questions and doubts when they consider what he is doing to them.

             “The Khabarovsk protest speaks not only about the anger of the regions” but also about the fact that the resources which have allowed the center to buy off or otherwise control the regions are running out. “So far, things are not so awful, but if suddenly there would be a chain reaction,” what could the regime do?

            “The paralysis of ‘the presidential vertical’ during the pandemic speaks about the inability of the powers to rule at a time of crisis,” but the problem is bigger than that. The regime is putting things off because it is seeking to solve its current challenges at the cost of the future. And thus, it is “making the future hostage to its present failures.”

            But even with time, the main problem the regime faces, the conflict between autocracy and elections, is not being solved.  “The Kremlin is trying to resolve it by converting the elections into a joke, but that method is generating anger even among the passive majority.” And the Kremlin has no answer how to stop that and allow Putin to be the autocrat.

            It is not only at home that the regime faces problems: it is in trouble abroad and thus cannot use foreign affairs to solve domestic difficulties in the way it has in the past and prefers to do. Demonstrating that Russia is a great power has been “a key factor in garnering support for the system.”

            But for that to work, Russia must become part of “the World Concert” and how can it be if others who are don’t want it there. “Today, only 18 percent of Americans, 31 percent of Europeans and 25 percent of Japanese view Russia positively.” And “60 percent of those polled in 22 countries do not trust Putin.”

            The world powers don’t count Russia among their number or want to relate to it as a partner.  That is bad enough for the Kremlin, but there is yet another problem for the Kremlin that it doesn’t want to face: “America is losing its leadership” and Russia has always based its self-image on “a struggle with American hegemonism.”

            What is the Kremlin to do if that is no longer the main challenge and if instead it has to confront a rising China? Seizing Crimea helped the regime, but its actions in the Donbass have been a mistake from the beginning, and the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner has brought Russia harm both financially and in terms of its reputation.

            According to Shevtsova, “Ukraine has exhausted its consolidating effect as ‘an enemy’ and become for the Kremlin a problem rather than a solution.” But there is no possibility of exiting from it without some victory, and there is no obvious course available toward one that doesn’t leave Putin in worse shape. 

            “The Syrian gambit did not return Russia to the club of world powers in the way it was planned. Venezuela turned out to be an expensive adventure. The resistance of Belarus casts doubt not only on the idea of a single state with Russia but even on the existence of Eurasia under the aegis of Moscow.”

            “Failures, dead ends, and mistakes are what Russian foreign policy consists of,” and thus, “instead of being a resource for the domestic agenda, it has become a burden,” Shevtsova continues.  And that is becoming “an existential problem” not only for those in power in the Kremlin but for Russian society as a whole.

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