Staunton, January 11 – The problems Russia now faces are once again pushing it in the direction of “a Perestroika 2.0,” just as similar problems drove the USSR that way four decades ago; but because of that prospect, the Kremlin is seeking to defend itself by becoming ever more repressive, a strategy that may keep Putin in power for a long time, Dimitry Savvin says.
The editor of the Riga-based conservative Russian portal Harbin says that the problems the Russian Federation now faces and the inability of the Putin regime to respond adequately to them are inevitably pushing Russia in the direction of reforms like those Mikhail Gorbachev began to try to save the USSR (harbin.lv/vremya-tmy).
But having viewed the outcome of Gorbachev’s efforts and convinced that the demise of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical disaster” of the century, Vladimir Putin has decided that the only way to block the evolution of Russia in that direction is with repression and terror and the further “limitation of remaining freedoms.”
This will not solve Russia’s problems or end underlying trends pushing the country toward reform, Savvin argues, but it may very well allow Putin to avoid making any concessions that might address society’s problems and thus to remain in power for a long time to come, perhaps to the end of his life.
In the last six months, the commentator says, the Kremlin has reached a consensus on the following political strategy: “not to change anything in the system in a significant way and thus to preserve it for as long as possible by means of repression.” And that has led it to change its approach to “the real and not just nominal opposition,” the extra-systemic one.
In the past, the Putin regime allowed this category to exist albeit in increasingly limited spheres. But “now it has adopted a course toward its complete elimination.” The poisoning of Aleksey Navalny is emblematic of this change which has far broader consequences than that, Savvin continues.
“When we speak today about the extra-systemic Russian opposition, we understand whether anyone likes this or not precisely Navalny and its supporters,” the conservative Russian analyst says. “No one else of this milieu has such serious authority and political weight or has such a powerful organization and regional network.”
Until recently, the Kremlin avoided attacking him head on lest it suffer PR losses abroad for retreating from democratic forms and because there are still some survivors of the Surkov period who believe the Kremlin is better off with the existence of such an opponent than it would be by destroying him and driving the anger he reflects underground.
The poisoning of Navalny shows that for Putin these considerations no longer dominate his thinking and that the Kremlin leader has decided to create a system completely indistinguishable from “the pro-Soviet peoples democracies of 1945-1991,” something he has been working toward since at least 2004.
Now, Savvin argues, “’the systemic opposition’ in the Russian Federation will become completely indistinguishable from ‘the national fronts’ and ‘peoples blocs’ of the post-war socialist countries.” They will lose whatever limited independence they enjoyed and become nothing more than handmaidens for United Russia and the Kremlin.
He continues: “The Kremlin’s position in 2020 became completely clear: no more regional powers, no combination with ‘extra-systemic’ groups locally, and no political ‘self-promoted’ people in the regions even if these are nominally completely loyal.” When the Putin regime does collapse, a very different opposition is likely to emerge.
It may include Navalny if he survives or a regional leader like Sergey Furgal, the former Khabarovsk governor whose dismissal and arrest has sparked continuing demonstrations. But around such people will emerge those in the government bureaucracy who become convinced that only by jumping ship can they hope to survive.
That too recalls the pattern of 1989-1991 and suggests that when Putin departs the scene may resemble what happened after the Soviet Union collapsed, an opposition figure from the regions becoming dominated by members of the ancien regime and then succeeded by someone who sprung from it and wants to restore the past.