Staunton, May 3 – Sixty percent of Russia’s top leadership had its origins in the Soviet nomenklatura and shares the values of that class, Maria Snegovaya says. Such people view the entire post-Soviet space as theirs by right, something that explains both the decision to go to war in Ukraine and support for Russian policies there.
Many observers have pointed to the dramatic increase in the number of siloviki around Putin, the US-based Russian analyst says. That matters importantly, but it is this broader continuity, one very different than in other post-Soviet states, that explains even more (theins.ru/opinions/mariya-snegovaya/250767).
What this shows is that in Russia in particular, “the collapse of the USSR did not lead to a change of elites,” Snegovaya continues. “Here is why: In the late 1980s, in Russia … the driving force for change was not a liber-democratic mass movement” but frustrated members of the middle and lower nomenklatura.”
As soon as they pushed their more senior colleagues out of the way, they assumed many of the conservative Soviet positions and patterns of behavior of their former bosses, something that limited change to democracy at home and cooperation abroad, the analyst continues.
In the Putin era, there was a dramatic increase in the number of siloviki, some of whom are former nomenklatura members but many are not. They represent only about half as many as the nomenklatura, but together they constitute “an explosive mix” of Soviet values and siloviki ones.
This explains Putin’s war in Ukraine: “people socialized in the Soviet nomenklatura system are proponents of a strong state, not liberals. They do not value democracy; their system of values prioritizes service to the state, to the vertical of power … In the post-Soviet period … these qualities became an important factor in the reconsolidation of new autocracies.”
Moreover, like the elites in the late Soviet period, such people believe that confrontation with the West is inevitable, that the entire space around Russia is a zone of its special interests, that Ukraine is an artificial state formation, and that to defend their country they must restore control over that larger space.
If Russia ever has another chance at reform, those who want real change will have to engage in lustration, Snegovaya says. “Those socialized in the leadership of the previous system should not be allowed to remain in the leadership of the country.” And Russia is heading in the same direction it was in the 1980s.
Once again, more junior officials are frustrated by the hold the aging gerontocracy has on power and may want to push it out of the way, she concludes. But unless those who share the values of the current elite are also removed, there is a very real danger that the system could reproduce itself once again.