Staunton, December 21 – The pandemic has shaken up the world, setting most of it on the path to renewal but prompting the Kremlin to double down in its efforts to restore the past, something that would be truly discouraging were it not for evidence at Khabarovsk, Shiyes and Kushtau that the Russian people too want to move in a new direction, Liliya Shevtsova says.
The last year, the Russian analyst says, has become “the year of a global apocalypse. International and national systems of administration, democracy and authoritarianism, rich and poor have all alike shown themselves to be powerless in the face of the epidemic (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2761418-echo/).
In many respects, however, the coronavirus has not triggered new trends but expanded the impact of those already in place, just as it has not led different countries to adopt entirely new approaches but rather to develop in ways they had been, something that is further dividing Russia from the rest of the world.
“The West is returning to half-forgotten standards” like national identity, collectivism, equality and justice” and prompted ever more governments to become more environmentally sensitive and launch new “green” efforts and seek to put in place alternative means of energy generation.
As a result, the centrist parties in the West are finding themselves under less pressure from the populist right than from the ideas of the Greens; and the economies of these countries are shifting to renewable energy and more environmentally friendly means of handling various challenges.
With this has begun “the consolidation of the Western club,” a development that has “intensified the mutual alienation of the democracies and Russia,” with each side viewing the other as a threat. That doesn’t mean Russia is isolated because the West will still talk to it, but the West won’t do so in the hopes of partnership but rather to prevent new Russian excesses.
At the same time, Shevtsova says, “the Russian spheres of influence is disintegrating. Central Asia is in China’s pocket. Ukraine has been lost forever. Belarus is still under the Kremlin umbrella but protests there make the idea of a union state doubtful. Moldova is looking to Europe, And the arrival of Turkey in the South Caucasus” completes that picture.
Russians are divided on how to respond. Some are only too pleased to remain in what they believe is splendid isolation, but others recognize that Russia can only become the power it wants to be if it has closer relations with the more advanced countries. Otherwise, it will fall further and further behind.
The Kremlin remains in thrall to those who want isolation and believes it can develop by increasing repression and extracting even more resources from the population. But that approach is rapidly exhausting itself, especially because the leadership can offer no mobilizing ideas but rather is based only on the preferred way of action of the police.
That doesn’t mean that the regime is about to collapse. “The Russian system retains potential” because of “the absence of alternatives, the fear among the population that Russia will repeat the fate of the USSR, and the paralyzing epidemic” all work to generate support for efforts designed to ensure “stability.”
The Putin regime can play on that for some time, Shevtsova suggests; but “the bitter irony is that what seems to it to be salvation” – increasing repression and a return to the past – “is going to turn out to be state suicide.”
“The coronavirus has forced the world to seek paths of renewal.” But Russia on the contrary “is trying to freeze itself in the past. A lonely power, a cowardly political class, a demoralized elite, and a population tired of those in power. That is our current situation,” the Russian analyst says.
“But in this bitter picture there is hope: Khabarovsk, Shiyes and Kushtau have become symbols which say that Russia is not hopeless” and that it has a possible future very different from the past the Kremlin wants to keep in place.