Staunton, March 17 – The question now hanging in the air in Moscow, Yevgeny Berlin says, is “who will replace the soft corrupt figures of the Putin era.” But among the suggestions most often heard is not the one that would appear to be extremely probable: the seizure of power by the most “orthodox” and “greedy” part of the current regime’s own siloviki.
Such people, the Moscow commentator says, favor “the complete tightening of the screws, the suppression of the remnants of freedom, the arrest of those opposition figures who remain at large, the closure of the internet and all independent media” because doing so would gain them support in many quarters and benefits to themselves (republic.ru/posts/99847).
These “’deep siloviki,’” Berlin continues, “are a product of a long-term process of negative selection conducted by the regime in the ranks of the force structures as in society as a whole. They are ‘hungry’ because they are greedy in a primitive way and material goods have for them are an unqualified priority.”
They are a threat to the current regime because its members who have become the new nobility in the Putin system are not sending their offspring “into the ranks of the army, the FSB, the SVR and other force structures.” Instead, the current elite wants its children to continue in its footsteps.
As a result, and in contrast to earlier periods of Russian history where the elite sent its children into the siloviki of those eras, their failure to do that means that the siloviki in Russia today are increasingly dominated by people who are at odds with the regime because they aren’t getting the benefits that those around the regime are.
In this, they are in many respects like Surkov’s “deep people” who also feel excluded, also would like to see those who have stolen from them dispossessed; and thus “the deep siloviki” have a natural power base that they could easily employ against the Putin regime unless the latter becomes both more repressive and gives its siloviki more benefits.
They thus represent the nucleus of a totalitarian state as Gennady Gudkov has suggested (echo.msk.ru/blog/gudkov/2804558-echo/) that is pushing Putin in that direction but clearly sees its own interests as different than his, given his obsession with wealth as opposed to the total control “the deep silovik” want.
But in this regard, Berlin says, there arises “another ‘but.’” And it is this: the current heads of the siloviki do not come from the same backgrounds as their subordinates or have the goals that their subordinates would favor. The latter are far more radical and far more ready to call for dispossessing the currently wealthy and practicing lustration.
That makes these people more popular in the population but at the same time more of a threat to the current group in power, the commentator continues, especially as dispossessing the rich and exposing the corrupt are extremely popular notions among Russia’s “deep people” at the present time.
According to Berlin, “Putin and his people seem to ‘the deep siloviki’ too soft, corrupt, and too catastrophically rapidly losing the trust of ‘the deep people.’” They believe the country needs “’a new Stalin,’” and they are gaining support not only among the population but among those parts of the elite who feel they aren’t getting enough either.
“’The deep siloviki,’” he continues, “radically exclude at least at present any compromises with the non-systemic opposition. They are against ‘classical ‘liberalization in any form or degree of the regime.” And at the same time, they back “in essence ‘the expropriation of the expropriators’” and the exposure of such people by lustration.
Those among “’the deep siloviki’” are likely to feel this way ever more profoundly as the economic situation in the country deteriorates, and they are likely to present an ever greater threat to Putin and his team and a likely successor to that group when the Kremlin leader departs from the scene.
“The fates of Putin and his entourage will be decided depending on how willingly they support the transfer of all power to the siloviki, including its ‘deep’ members.” Most around Putin very much fear such a course of development, “the loss of political power which under Russian conditions inevitably results in the loss of economic power as well.”
But how the Kremlin will or even can respond remains unclear, Berlin says, concluding that any changes are fraught because as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “the most dangerous moment for a bad government comes when it begins to reform itself.”