Staunton, May 30 – The war in Ukraine is among other things “a war of generations,” Mariya Snegovaya and Nikolay Petrov say, with the Moscow elite dominated by those born in the 1960s and defined by their Soviet experiences while the Kyiv elite is dominated by those born in the 1980s who came of age after the USSR collapsed and have very different values.
Snegovaya, a US-based Russian analyst, notes that more than 60 percent of the top 100 members of the Putin establishment have connections with the Soviet nomenklatura and have been in place for 30 years. They thus share the behavioral characteristics of that past (reforum.io/blog/2022/05/30/pochemu-ne-stoit-zhdat-raskola-putinskih-elit/).
The situation in Ukraine is radically different, she continues. There, “the average age of the nomenklatura is about 30 to 35,” while in Russia it is 55 plus, more than the average for the post-Soviet space.” And just as at the end of Soviet times, this long-serving cohort of older officials blocks the rise of younger ones.
Petrov, a Russian scholar at London’s Chatham House, agrees; but he casts his net wider to broader groups at the top of the two systems and focuses on changes in that group in Russia over the last decade, changes that he argues make it highly unlikely that there will be any division among it anytime soon.
“In Putin’s neo-nomenklatura system,” he continues, “there are no aspects of a system of elites remaining. Ten years ago, they were still present and there were people capable of acting at odds with commands from above … Today, these people don’t remain. They are cogs in the machine.”
As a result, Petrov says, in Putin’s system, “in contrast to the nomenklatura one which we observed under Brezhnev, Khrushchev and even Stalin, there is no ‘defense against a fool’ … there is no internal competition and mutual control. The personalist system is homogenous and it is degrading as a result.” The war in Ukraine violates its interests, but its members won’t protest.
“For me,” Petrov says, “this system is one of Chekist rule but not because there the majority of people are from the special services but because that is the administrative matrix within which they operate.” In the vision of its members, there is “us and our enemies, and society and people are not significant.” That led to the miscalculation about Ukraine.
Snegovaya adds that “those processes which we observed at the end of the USSR are appearing also at the end of the Putin regime. Younger members are beginning to feel that they aren’t represented in the system and do not have prospects – and possibly, they will begin to want a renewal” so they can advance.
But change is less likely to come from any demands from below but from the working of the actuarial tables, she suggests. In the top 100 members of the Putin regime, “no more than four are from the generation born in the 1980s.” That means that if a change of elites becomes possible, “it is very important that lustration be carried out.”