Sunday, December 27, 2020

Putin Regime Building Defenses Against Challenges of Past Not Those of Present and Future, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 25 – Like generals who always prepare to fight the last war and thus find themselves at a loss when a new situation presents itself, the Putin regime is preparing to fight a color revolution in Russia, something that won’t happen because both the regime and the population have changed, Vladimir Pastukhov says.

            The Kremlin leader and his entourage looks at Belarus and at Khabarovsk and concludes it must take steps to prevent these from spreading to Moscow, the London-based Russian analyst says; but they fail to see that both regime of which they are a part and the challenges to it have changed (

            Russia’s “political generals are preparing themselves for color revolutions,” he continues, “but color revolutions are yesterday’s challenges not today’s.” What is coming is something that will take “a different and as far as they are “unknown form.” That doesn’t mean their defenses will be completely ineffective but that they will ultimately be irrelevant.

            According to Pastukhov, the most important development of the last year was the constitutional changes approved last spring. They weren’t “simply a PR action or a special operation to prolong Putin’s time in power.” They were about putting in place arrangements for “the complete transformation of this society.”

            That transformation, he argues, is not so much of a “totalitarian” character as of a “personalist one.” But it is, the Russian analyst says, “irreversible.” And almost everything else, including the repressive laws adopted since, the attack on Navalny, and various scandals are “in a certain sense the consequence of this process.”

            Pastukhov suggests that Grigory Yavlinsky is wrong to call this a coup directed at creating “a constitutional dictatorship.” There is no need to refer to it as constitutional and in fact what has occurred is the construction of “a state which in its essence is a certain revenant of the feudal arrangements” of the Russian past.

            What Russia is today is a modernized form of a serf-holding society, one that opens the way to fascism of the Italian or Spanish kind. But even that analogy is “superficial,” Pastukhov continues, because “we are not completely part of European culture, in the framework of which such a phenomenon as fascism arose.”

            Instead, as always, “we are proceeding along our own special path,” on that takes as its archetype “an enserfed society and a serf-holding state. That is what has occurred in the course of this year,” but of course, “it didn’t appear out of nowhere” but rather had been building in stages over the last 20 years of Putin’s rule.

            This brings to fruition “the formation of a post-nomenklatura semi-mafia nobility” with Putin acting not as president but rather as arbiter of its various parts, based on a society that has come to terms with this because it is focusing on its own, narrow, consumerist goals rather than anything larger.

            “Putin is a hostage of this class,” he says; “but at the same time because of the dialectic, this class cannot exist without Putin.” He is “not so much the president of a country as a supervisor of a very, very large district from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok” who sometimes relies on the state, sometimes on businesses, and sometimes on criminals.

            The Kremlin leader has no preference among them except in terms of what they can offer him on any particular occasion. He manipulates them, but they compete among each other under him, with the competition intensifying as the prospect of his departure looms as something they will have to cope with sooner rather than later.

            Below this stratum, Pastukhov suggests, has emerged a society which may or may not watch and accept the state television channels and may or may not use the Internet for shopping or entertainment or self-display but which isn’t focused on what goes on above them and therefore isn’t ready to challenge it.

This society lives its own life, largely independent of the powers that be. And most of the time as long as it does not assume a political form, the Putin regime and its various parts are quite pleased with this arrangement.

But Putin and his regime have a problem: they want to know and control everything, but they cannot be sure that the information they are getting is accurate. Putin constantly seeks to develop new information sources but he doesn’t consider some of them, such as the Internet, and so finds himself trapped in a kind of “self-fulfilling paranoia” about what is going on.

That explains his actions regarding Navalny, Pastukhov says; but Putin’s actions in this case have dramatically expanded Navalny’s name recognition in Russia. And while that may not bring him to power anytime soon, it is part of the new reality that Putin and his team are still fighting with old weapons.

As a result, “in the course of all this year – and this is most important result – has taken place an interesting process, one in which there has been an equation of any disagreement with engaging in espionage and being an enemy of the people. That is nothing new” for Russia” but “it is surprising that the nation has not learned anything.”

As a result, “we have landed in a situation when if one does not agree, one is a foreign agent, a spy, and a diversionist,” Pastukhov says. That is shifting the relations between those in power and those not into a new dimension, one that sets the stage for a conflict the regime incorrectly assumes it has put in place adequate defenses.

But what this “entire complex” of repressive laws has done is to send a signal to both those who are part of the Putin regime and the population that “the country is filled with hostile agents who are prepared at any moment to go over to active measures and begin blowing up power stations and burning warehouses.”

            Such a vision risks becoming “a self-fulfilling prophecy,” and to the extent it does, Pastukhov concludes, it sets the stage for the next and very unpredictable period of Russian history.

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