Staunton, December 23 – It is too soon to draw conclusions about the Navalny case, Vladislav Inozemtsev says; but two things are already obvious: it is failing to perform as the Kremlin requires because the lies its members tell each other are often as great as those they tell others, and centralized control is breaking down because of commercialization.
Given the importance Vladimir Putin attaches to the work of Russia’s special services, the Russian economist says, it is striking how many failures they have racked up. But those failures reflect just how much their officers lie to each other and their superiors as to outsiders (spektr.press/lozhnyj-vyzov-vladislav-inozemcev-o-kulture-vranya-i-otstaloj-prodazhnosti-kotorye-vysvetilo-rassledovanie-otravleniya-navalnogo/).
In 2014, he continues, “we first saw how the prison openly lied to the media and foreign leaders about the participation of Russian forces in the seizure of Crimea.” But then, Putin admitted he had done so for operational reasons, something that pleased Russians, Crimean residents and Western leaders who didn’t want to have to do something.
But over the last seven years, lying has become the norm, not just for Putin but for all those who are part of his system; and such lying has the effect of reducing the effectiveness of the regime because it does not know what it has done because its subordinates may tell it something else to avoid responsibility or gain preferment.
“Today in Russia,” Inozemtsev says, “economic growth statistics, mortality figures for the coronavirus, and progress reports about various strategic programs” are falsified; and the only way people know what is going on is through leaks that are the other side of this phenomenon.
It is no clear that “the powers that be never will stop lying … and in this connection, Navalny’s telephone call to the man who possibly tried to murder him is simply the bell tolling for the entire Putin system,” Inozemtsev sums up.
But the lying is compensated for by the fact that information among other thing has been commercialized and that the more data which are gathered, the more opportunities there are for people to buy and sell information either to make money or improve their chances of survival in the system.
“’Digitalization’ in Russia is not then accident but a most important economic and financial trend,” one that the regime hopes will allow it to keep track of everything but that means there is so much information about that all kinds of people, from investigators like Bellingcat to criminals to oligarchs, can gain access to it remarkably easily.
Some have to pay for certain kinds of information, but others can gain it at little or no cost and use it for their purposes rather than those of the state that collected it. But because they don’t understand this, “the Putin system and the people who created it and try to serve it are before our eyes becoming blatantly inadequate to the contemporary world.”
They may know how to break into US government computer systems, but they do not know how to operate in a world where all privacy has been lost. Instead, “Russia today is led not by people who hate the West or are motivated by traditional values. It is run by those who understand sovereignty” as rulers did at the time of the Congress of Vienna.
Putin and this regime “view their subordinates as serfs” from whom everything can be taken and whose every action can be monitored. But they do not see that they too are subject to these things and thus whatever they do will ultimately come out, however much they lie about what they have done.
“These are people of the 19th century who unexpectedly have gained access to the technologies of the 21st – and precisely for that reason they for a long time yet will not be able to recognize how quickly the erosion of their power is taking place,” the economist continues.
At the same time, however, he argues that “this does not mean that “the Kremlin is defeated or even more that it will recognize defeat.” Instead, it is likely even certain to employ ever more repressive measures against all and sundry, including murderous attacks by the special services on its opponents.
What matters most in this situation is the reaction of the Russian people. If they protest against this massively, there is a chance that the system will change or be replaced. But if they continue behaving as they are now, then the system will continue and become even worse in the coming years.
Inozemtsev says he is inclined to be pessimistic about the prospects given the growing apathy of Russians and their focus on their personal problems rather than those of the system. To the extent that is the case, he says, the Russian powers now have “the ideal people” for their preferred form of rule and they will be able to continue as they are for a long time to come.