Staunton, May 13 – Most analysts of elites focus on divisions based on a left-right spectrum of political views, but in Russia, other factors, such as attitudes toward the West, the Soviet and imperial pasts, and the ethno-national basis of the state, are far more important and have become more so since the start of Putin’s war in Ukraine, Ivan Fomin says.
The Russian political scientist who specializes on the analysis of political discourse says that by their statements, members of the top Russian elite can be arrayed along an axis extending from radical statists who believe the state must always take primacy to radical eletherists who back human freedom above it (ridl.io/o-shesti-sortah-putinskoj-elity/).
Neither of these extreme positions is occupied by any member of the elite, Fomin concludes on the basis of the public statements of leaders between 2014 and 2021. And most in fact use some arguments drawn from both sides of this political debate, some more from the first and some more from the second.
Pursuing that analytic approach, the political analyst says, one finds there are six distinct groups. On the statist side, there are the hardline statists like Bortnikov, Patrushev and Zolotov; moderate statists like Timchenko, Chermezov, Chaika, Matviyenko, Volodin and Shoygu; and soft statists like Siluanov, Nabiullina, Lavrov, and Shuvalov.
On the more eleftherist side are soft eleftherists like Sobyanin and Kiriyenko; moderate ones like Mishustin and Belousov;.Further on, the eleftherist part of the spectrum contains a small cohort of soft eleftherists with the Sobyanin and Kiriyenko; and a single hard one – Aleksey Kudrin.
The existence of such ideological shadings among the elite does not point to the existence of a schism within the elite or suggest there is open confrontation at least at present. But it does provide “a better idea of potential patterns of such splits should conditions arise in which they might occur,” Fomin says.
He suggests four scenarios for the future that might affect relations among these various ideological trends: a stable one in which little or nothing would change and in which conflicts would be minimal, a statist purge in which the hardliners would expel the others from positions of power; the withdrawal of the less statist by emigration; and polarized confrontation.
Which of these in fact takes place, Fomin suggests, will depend heavily on the length of the war in Ukraine and how it ends. “Under the current catastrophic circumstances,” he says, “the Kremlin may well lack the resources to restore even a semblance of elite consensus, all the more so because such a consensus has never existed at the ideological level.”