Tuesday, April 26, 2016


"Russia’s current regime will not last long. The tumultuous events in Ukraine in 2014 reduced the country’s possible trajectories to a single one – a path that will quickly lead to the collapse of the Putin government if there is no radical change in its course. Before the Crimea–Ukraine affair, it looked as though President Vladimir Putin’s political regime was fairly stable and could last for several years without profound change. However, there was a qualitative shift in the regime’s character after 2014. Now, it draws its legitimacy from military action, rather than from the ballot box. The roots of this shift go back to the political crisis of 2011–2012, when mass anti-government protests and poor electoral results for the ruling party showed that the old form of politics was coming to an end. Today, the regime derives its legitimacy not from the bottom up, through elections, but from the top down, by placing the country on a permanent war footing. Although Putin stayed in power, his role changed fundamentally – now, he is more like a tsar than the chair of a board. The regime has moved from a hybrid system that still maintained the outward trappings of a democracy to a full-scale authoritarian state, while the shifting balance of power has made the elites more dependent on the president. Although Putin’s popularity skyrocketed after the annexation of Crimea, he has been trapped by his choices. His regime is addicted to military action and now needs a series of ever-stronger hits of foreign conflict in order to maintain its legitimacy. This position is unsustainable, given shrinking financial resources, the waning patience of elites who don’t want to live in a military camp forever, and Russia’s fast-deteriorating administrative and political systems. The country is being held hostage by the regime; the regime is a hostage of Putin, and Putin is a hostage of his own actions, which have drastically narrowed his range of options. Given all this, Russia’s current trajectory is that of a plane in a tailspin".
Nikolay Petrov, "Putin's Downfall: the Coming Crisis of the Russian Regime". European Council on Foreign Relations. 19 April 2016, in www.ecfr.eu.
"Evidently we have reached the sad point where the idea of power is no longer connected with either a doctrine, the personality of a leader or a tradition, but only with power itself. Every governmental institution and position is sustained by no other force than the realization that it is an essential part of the existing system. Naturallv, self-preservation is bound to be the only aim of such a regime, at least in its domestic policy. This has come to mean the self-preservation of the bureaucratic elite. In order to remain in power, the regime must change and evolve, but in order to preserve itself, everything must remain unchanged. The contradiction can be noted particularly in the case of the "economic reform," which is being carried out so slowly and yet is so vital to the regime. Self-preservation is clearly the dominant drive. The regime wants neither to "restore Stalinism" nor to "persecute the intelligentsia" nor to "render fraternal assistance" to those who have not asked for it, like Czechoslovakia. The only thing it wants is for everything to go on as before: authorities to be recognized, the intelligentsia to keep quiet, no rocking of the system by dangerous and unfamiliar reforms".
Andrey Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? (1969).
Dr. Petrov's analysis of the coming collapse of the Putin Regime is one that I whole heartily agree with. First as he correctly points out both the seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine were prima facie examples of Primat der Innenpolitik policies. While per se Russia's naval bases in Sevastopol were and are an important strategic asset, there was no sign from the new regime in Kyiv that they intended to end the agreement which allowed Russia to maintain said bases. The agreement lasting for another thirty-years. Unless one were to adhere to Kremlin propaganda that the new regime in Kyiv were made up of 'fascists' who were engaging in and or about to engage in persecution of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine (of which there were no evidence of course), then the true reasoning behind both the annexation and the subsequent contriving and backing for the uprising in Eastern Ukraine becomes readily apparent. And while there was and is more than a soupcon of geopolitical reasoning in Moskva's military intervention in Syria, the fact of the matter is that the Putin regime has used the apparently successful (and I for one would be quite willing to admit that Russia's intervention in Syria has on the whole proved to be 'succesful', nay perhaps even remarkably successful) intervention in Syria to further buttress is internal, domestic legitimacy. Something which given the now year and half decline in oil and gas revenues is increasingly replacing economic growth as a source, perhaps to an increasing degree the only source of political legitimacy that the regime possesses. The upshot of this state of affairs is as Dr. Petrov cogently points out:
The use of military mobilisation rhetoric to keep the regime going is fraught with serious risks. The line between real and imagined foreign enemies is thin, and perceptions shift as the elites and society are increasingly indoctrinated. It could even lead to a real international armed conflict, either through a gradual slide or a sudden rush into direct confrontation. However, the regime has to maintain its military legitimacy at all costs: it is not capable of switching back to electoral legitimacy, except by replacing its leader.
Even with the apparent successes of Putin's foreign policy, the economic damage that the regime has undergone in the past two and half years as a result of both Western sanctions and the decline in oil and gas prices has wreaked havoc to not only the regime's economic planning and goals (such as they were), but also to its own internal cohesion and effectiveness. With the 'clans' or factions who form the heart of the regime increasingly quarrelling over the sharing out of the ever smaller pie of goodies (in fact 'loot'). As Dr. Petrov observes:
"The clashes between elites are aggravated by Russia’s confrontation with the West, which increases the exhaustion of the regime’s political-economic base, and makes the political environment increasingly febrile. The Kremlin’s aggression abroad, and the resulting damage to Russia’s economy from sanctions, have forced the elites to live a more modest lifestyle – something they won’t tolerate for long. Whether disgruntled elites opt for exit or revolt, both pose great risks to the system".
Unfortunately, as Dr. Petrov pessimistically but realistically notes, even 'changes' to the existing regime such a palace coup d'état (the ouster of Putin) or a rapprochement with the West would not necessarily alleviate the existing state of things in Matushka Russia in the absence of either a major resurgence of commodity prices (something only possible in three to five years time), or the appearance of a political personality of Charles de Gaulle-like qualities. Russia lacks to-day just as she lacked in 1917 and in 1991-1992, that combination of state and society institutions and groupings which allowed for example Germany to resurrect itself in 1919, after the collapse of the Kaiserreich. Unfortunately, Russia has not been very fortunate in its supply of political leaders in the past one-hundred years. Just as she has singularly failed to evolve in such a fashion that would allow the coming collapse of Putinism to not cause a wider societal crisis as well. As per Dr. Petrov the end-result will be a complete collapse of the regime akin to what occurred to the Sovietskaya Vlast circa 1990-1992 or (less likely) another February Revolution of 1917 with the concomitant collapse of the state apparatus in the following seven-months preparatory to the Bolshevik coup d'état of October 1917. As Dr. Petrov notes sardonically: "Russia is a country where everything can change in five years, and nothing in 100".


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