PUTIN'S RUSSIA: HOW NEAR TO COLLAPSE?
"Russia's recent show of strength toward the West may come at the price of its own internal stability. On Aug. 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a crackdown on violations of the Kremlin's food sanctions against the European Union and the United States, during which some illegally imported food was destroyed. The move was very unpopular among Russian officials and the public. Since food imports to Russia fell by more than half within a single day of Putin's order, many criticized the Kremlin for destroying food at a time when Russians are under increased financial and economic pressure. If the Kremlin continues to crack down on those who violate the order, protests will only grow louder.""Why Is Russia Destroying Food?". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 13 August 2015, in www.stratfor.com
"Cornered by economic crisis and Western boycott, the regime has now fallen back on Russian nationalism as its ideological mainstay. Historically, rulers could appeal to that in time of war—1812, 1914, 1941—but always episodically, capped by other orders of value. There is no such war today, nor any further value-system. This is the first time in conditions of peace that a government is banking everything on Russian nationalism pure and simple, to all appearances for the duration. How effective is that resort likely to be? As domestic recession deepens, welfare expenditure is cut, and popular living standards fall, it is bound to come under strain. While political protests in the capital have so far failed to make much dent on the regime, if social protests in the provinces—simmering here and there since 2011—were to spread across the country, it would be in danger: the current wave of Russian national feeling is plainly liable to the external check of material hardship. Another question, which will outlast the present crisis, is its internal strength.". Perry Anderson, "Incommensurate Russia". The New Left Review. July / August 2015, in www.newleftreview.org With its recession becoming nastier by the day and with the self-defeating quality of its crackdown on the smuggling of 'foreign food' becoming more evident with every passing minute, it is time to consider how the Putin Regime will manage to survive the current, Ukraine-inspired crisis 1. As Perry Anderson cogently points out in the current issue of the New Left Review, by relying almost entirely upon regime-inspired Russian nationalism as a means of rallying support for itself, Putin and his clique are it would appear from the longue durée perspective, digging their own graves. Looked at in isolation, Russian nationalism has never provided a solid buttress for any of Russia's previous regimes. With the current recession apparently growing in intensity, especially with a barrel of oil more than sixty-percent lower than a mere fifteen months ago, the outlook for the average Russian's economic welfare does not look at all healthy. Especially, in light of the fact that even before the imposition of sanctions over Ukraine, Russia had failed to recover fully from the crisis of 2007-2009. Sans either a major rise in the price of oil in the next year or two (which appears unlikely), or a restoration of the status quo ante bellum in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, look for a gradual tightening of the economic screws on both Russian elites and the Russian narod. In view of such a set of circumstances, the survival of Putinism, appears to my mind at any rate to be in question. As a recent analysis noted, notwithstanding the very strong polling numbers for Putin personally, the fact is:
"A further deterioration of the economy could undermine the key basis of the regime’s popularity: social stability. It should also be noted that the widespread public approval that is heavily dependent on compelling an apolitical majority to make “correct” political choices can rapidly dissolve 2."One may only hope that if Putinism does indeed collapse it does not result in the larger collapse of the Russian Federation as well. Pyotr Durnovo, a one-time Minister of the Interior of the Tsarist regime, prescient warning of early 1914, that Tsarist Russia would collapse into revolutionary turmoil under the pressure and strains of war, holds as much weight to-day as it did then 3. The only question is how long will Putin's Russia will be able to stand the accumulating rush of economic pressures and events. Particularly given the alienation of the educated classes of Moskva and Petersburg from the regime since 2012. As Durnovo himself noted back in 1906:
"Educated Russia governs the state. One must try to have as many loyal people as possible among the educated" 4.1. Kathrin Hille, "Fears of financial crisis rise as Russia’s economy shrinks". The Financial Times. 10 August 2015, in www.ft.com. On the food issue, see: Courtney Weaver, "Russia incinerates contraband food". The Financial Times. 6 August 2015, in www.ft.com. See also: Tatyana Stanovaya, "Destroy at Any Cost: The Political Rationale Behind Russia’s Food Burnings". Carnegie Moscow Center. 14 August 2015, in www.carnegie.ru 2. Denis Volkov, "How Authentic is Putin’s Approval Rating?" Carnegie Moscow Center. 27 July 2015, in www.carnegie.ru For a sense that there is a fin de régime air to Moskva at the moment, see: Brian Whitmore, "Panic In The Kremlin". Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. 13 August 2015, in www.rferl.org 3. On the Durnovo memorandum, see the discussion by the British historian, Dominic Lieven in: Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia. (2015), pp. 303-307 and passim. 4. Dominic Lieven. Russia's Rulers under the old Regime. (1989), p. 229.