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 late 2020s.
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 true.
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 constitutional amendments.
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 explosive.
The bill for these changes will come due right after Putin is re-elected president four years from now.