Staunton, February 20 – The opposition in Russia lacks all five of the conditions needed to open the way for its successful overthrow of the existing system, Dimitry Savvin says; but even more likely to save the Putin regime would be the adoption of a Realpolitik approach to Russia like the one it adopted for North Korea and allowed its totalitarian regime to survive.
History suggests that for an opposition to be effective against a tyrannical regime, it must have five key qualities, the editor of the conservative Russian Harbin portal based in Riga says. But the Russian opposition now doesn’t have any of these five (harbin.lv/iskushenie-realpolitikom).
It does not have an alternative elite, it does not have an organization ready to shed blood its own and others for the cause, it doesn’t have mass support, it can’t count on a deep split within the existing elite, and it doesn’t face a decaying and increasingly ineffective repressive apparatus controlled by the regime.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t factors at work which could destroy the Putin system, Savvin says. Two of these are especially important: “its internal contradictions and mistakes which give rise to a whole cascade of various crises” and “pressure from the outside.” And it is ensuring that the second of these is present that makes protests inside Russia so important.
That becomes obvious if one considers the survival of the totalitarian regime in North Korea at the time when communism and the Soviet bloc were disintegrating. “At the start of the 1990s, it appeared that this regime would exist for a maximum of several months,” and that the tyranny of the Kims would come to an end.
But it and they have survived, through “hunger and the radical transformation of the social-economic system.” According to Savvin, “the monolithic quality of the ruling stratum, the most powerful and extremely harsh repressive regime, and the many decades long lack of any sign of opposition” all played a role.
These things alone, however, would not have been enough to ensure its survival, he argues. “North Korean totalitarianism could not have survived if there had not been one additional element about which it is not pleasant to speak.” And it is this, three of the four countries which provided it with aid – the US, South Korea and Japan -- were its enemies.
“How was this possible?” Savvin asks rhetorically. “The answer is simple: we are dealing with the latest case of Realpolitik,” in which the governments of these countries and others decided that they would face real problems if the North Korean regime was pushed from the scene and so decided to prop it up in the hopes of changing it over time.
Unfortunately, the conservative Russian commentator says, the approach of the West to the Kims was “no exception.” George H.W. Bush spoke out against the collapse of the USSR and against the disintegration of Yugoslavia,” in order to avoid problems for his country that would inevitably arise if these systems came apart.
“Such an approach is traditional for the State Department,” the analys continues, “and one must say that is in its own way logical. And with regard to Europe, it is sufficient to recall the attempt of lengthy ‘constructive cooperation’ between the Federal Republic of Germany and the USSR.”
Savvin points out that “the US and the EU possess more than sufficient meant to force Putin to launch a Perestroika 2.0 … but under conditions of a global economic crisis and the growth of internal tensions in their own countries, the temptation to ‘freeze’ the situation by playing Realpolitik is very great.”
The arguments of those who favor such an approach are well-known. Who knows what might happen if Putin is ousted? He might be replaced by someone much worse and Russia might disintegration into a plethora of countries “from Sakha to Adygeya.” And besides, in Russia today, there is no one else to take power.
That is what the Russian opposition for all its weaknesses can show: there are other possible leaders. “Influencing the Kremlin by non-violent actions” isn’t going to work, “but influencing public opinion in the EU and the US is realistic. And this could be more important since Brussels and Washington today are capable of turning off the financial taps to Moscow.”
Aleksey Navalny and his protesters demonstrate that Putin and Russia are not synonymous, that there are other leaders and other policies, and that avoiding putting pressure on Putin to avoid disaster is likely to entail other disasters just as it has in the case of the Kims in North Korea.
Many will say that the chance of influencing the West in this way is too small to justify putting thousands of Russians in danger by calling them into the streets, Savvin continues. But the chance of the West modifying Putin’s regime by failing to put more pressure on the Kremlin is far less.
“And therefore,” the conservative Russian commentator concludes, “those who have gone our and will go out to take part in protest actions are right. There will be victims, but they will not be in vain,” if not immediately inside Russia now then in Western capitals now and Russia later.