Staunton, November 28 – Appearing on
Ekho Moskvy this week, Vladimir Pastukhov argues that Vladimir Putin doesn’t
wear a mask in public because his base consists of coronavirus skeptics, that
the Kremlin will find it far easier to deal with Joe Biden than it did with
Donald Trump, and that the real leadership crisis in Russia will come in the
The Kremlin leader, the London-based
Russian analyst says, is a careful and cautious man, especially when it concerns
his health. He has remained in the bunker and those who visit him have had to
undergo quarantines. But he is also a political animal, and that explains why
he doesn’t wear a mask in public (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2748306-echo/).
Putin is very well aware that his
core electorate consists of “covid dissidents” who don’t really believe in the
virus and who would be offended if their leader appeared to defer to the experts.
Putin does defer in all but the most public of places. There, he doesn’t wear a
mask, Pastukhov says, because “he cannot lose face.”
According to the Russian historian,
Putin “knows and understands his people well,” and therefore he doesn’t put on
a mask. Lying behind this, of course, is a national characteristic of Russians,
their fatalism, and the notion that if God intends someone to live or die, that
is what is going to happen.
With regard to the approaching
change of presidents in the United States, Pastukhov says that the Kremlin
should be breathing easier because it will find Biden to be a more rational and
considered opposite number than Trump has been because the new man won’t have
to prove he isn’t a Russian agent, something the incumbent has always had to do.
“Trump was a good find for the Kremlin,”
the analyst continues. “I am certain that there were for many years before his
presidency very good commercial and non-commercial, formal and informal
contacts with Trump. I’m not prepared to say he was recruited but he was under
the influence of Putin beyond any doubt.”
But once he won the American
presidency, Trump found himself forced to prove on any and all occasions that
he wasn’t a Russian agent and thus, “in a certain sense, he became more Catholic
than the pope” as far as dealing with Russia is concerned, routinely taking a
harder line than was necessary or than he would have preferred.
Biden doesn’t have that problem and
so doesn’t have to prove he isn’t something that in fact no one could believe
otherwise. As a result, the incoming president “at a minimum won’t have to
prove he isn’t a Russian agent, and he will thus act rationally.” That should
work to Moscow’s advantage.
At the same time, Russians should
give up the notion that the incoming president will devote more attention to
Russia. Biden is going to focus on domestic issues like race and overcoming the
pandemic. Too many people in Russia suffer not only from fatalism but from the
notion that everyone in the world is obsessed with Russia. That just isn’t
And finally, in his discussion of
what is taking place in Russia now and when the country will face the period of
greatest tension, Pastukhov suggests that however strange it may sound, Russia’s
ruling elite is simultaneously acting as if Putin is eternal and as if they
must do everything to prepare for when he not longer will be in the Kremlin.
It is pushing through measures that
won’t be needed as long as Putin remains but won’t work when he departs. It is
perhaps the case that this reflects a generational struggle between the
oligarchs and their children and grandchildren.
Pastukhov says that in his view the
period of greatest tension in the Russian pollical elite will occur between
2025 and 2028. Putin will win the Duma elections next year and the presidential
one in 2024, but then he will face problems because of instability in leading
countries, economic problems in Russia, and difficulties of implementing the
The latter is critical because Putin
put in place not simply arrangements to allow him to stay in office but also to
shift Russia from a pseudo-democracy to a corporate state dictatorship in which
democratic elements will increasingly be dispensed with, something that has the
effect of making any leadership transition even more difficult and potentially
The bill for these changes will come
due right after Putin is re-elected president four years from now.