MOSCOW – This is an endless topic. The international community should know who they are dealing with. Gradually they realize that what’s happening in Russia has to be translated, that this country cannot be considered using civilized logic, that the processes underway there have a unity of their own.
Most importantly, they have to realize that one and only goal of all endeavors of Russia’s ruling elite is its lifetime tenure. Part of this is the possibility of Putin’s lifetime presidency, combined with rotation in the inner circle, or his replacement by a person considered to be more acceptable by that elite. There are a variety of scenarios, but all are set within the same political culture.
This goal is to be reached at all costs. No economic, political or humanitarian catastrophes will affect this regime. In Russia, the ongoing crisis is perceived as such only when it manifests itself in the institutional sphere – and even this does not suffice. Playing games assigning gubernatorial elections, elections by party lists, then partially retreating from them, establishing tandemocracy that destroys the presidency, revising the Constitution to prolong the president’s term in office, then openly violating it by the law on the limitation of the jurisdiction of a jury, expanding the concept of high treason – all this and much more failed to cause a noticeable public response.
Meanwhile, these phenomena are definitely indicative of an institutional crisis. They and the public attitude to them serve as indicators of the regime’s legal self-identification. In the public and legal domain, these actions reduce its legitimacy. In the archaic conceptual sense, they serve to strengthen it, as does the outwardly absurd reaction to the manifestations of independence in public and cultural life, campaigns against corruption, US adopters, NGOs, homosexuals, historians, even smoking.
Russia’s planned, systematic and robust legislative work of the past decade reminds one of Nazi Germany. Hitler quickly adopted legislation on racial purity. Putin took his time carefully formulating a system of laws on the inviolability and irremovability of the regime. The Nuremberg Laws isolated part of the population along racial lines. Putin’s legislation isolates the entire population along the lines of noninvolvement in government. In return (as under Hitler), there is the national spirit, direct appeal to the masses, formation of a neo-totalitarian movement designed to gradually replace the party system.
Destruction of civilized statehood has entered a phase where a neo-totalitarian quasi state formation is taking shape; here, as during good old Soviet times, the concept of crisis is entirely different. Serious changes in the existing balance of power, redistribution of spheres of influence, and significant replacements on the upper echelons of government are necessary for a crisis to become noticeable. For this kind of political system, any public manifestations of crisis – even mass unemployment, inflation, and famine – are not enough, the more so that these phenomena may be provoked, even architected by the regime in order to become stronger, tougher, also in conjunction with tasks arising from the intraspecific struggle.
One shouldn’t project any descriptions and analysis of a crisis that are practiced by the civilized countries onto current Russia. The market mechanisms may be similar, but there are totally different market operators in Russia. In fact, this situation is the result of the absence of politically and economically independent social communities in the current socio-political system. Appealing to the middle class causes raised eyebrows because even those who try to do so are unable to determine its composition and distinctive features. Talking about millions of owners of apartments and gardens sounds weird.
Political and economic independence are the greatest values of the middle class, but here one comes across yet another paradox: How can one appeal to an economically independent social group after several years of waging a policy aimed at destroying the economic independence of the population? There is no evidence of encouragement of economic independence, save for declarations. Moreover, talking about property characteristics, this society appears to be getting polarized.
In fact, the population of Russia parted with both political and economic independence without offering noticeable resistance. People counted on sharing in oil revenues – as direct budgetary payments or different kinds of private enterprise. The innovative potential of the so-called middle strata is questionable, so they should not be referred to as a creative class.
All this was clear several years ago, but Russia’s aggression against Ukraine made apparent the regime’s colossal mobilization potential. It further demonstrated the consolidation of society, as people united against Ukrainians who had suddenly become monsters in human form.
The [Russian] government was motivated to do what it did by two things. I will reiterate that the Kremlin had and still has a plan for the dismemberment of Ukraine and for strengthening its imperial military-industrial potential through eight Ukrainian oblasts. Yet there is a logic of internal mobilization. Hatred of Ukrainians became a unifying force because Ukrainians had done something Russians would have been unable to do. This is true of the Russian intelligentsia in the first place, it being a creative class and progressive community. These people have no confidence in their beliefs, no sense of inner rightness. Therefore, they are ideal for the current regime, no matter how hard they could try to act differently.
I have written about pacifism and promotion of equal responsibility of the parties, I’ll have to repeat myself because the circle of peace activists keeps broadening. However, their texts are becoming more labored and wordy. They are perfect self-exposers. One can tell that such authors have to overcome inner resistance to write lies, deceiving themselves and others. The latest example is a passage from Dmitry Butrin, top manager of the Kommersant Publishing House:
“Declaring oneself as being on someone’s side in this conflict is not only an act of ethical choice – and I believe that making it public knowledge is mauvais ton – but also a demonstration of one’s readiness to inevitably ignore part of someone else’s correct arguments.”
Number one, the text is robot-like. Number two, it is gibberish. Since when declaring an “act of ethical choice” has become mauvais ton? If so, all human history is mauvais ton. Oh well, you figure out the main point only after you finish reading the text. The author was tasked with expressing extreme contempt for Ukraine and backward Ukrainians who associate politics with some moral principles and other idealistic nonsense. Of course, advanced Russia is a totally different matter!
This stand, this “act of ethical choice,” is adopted by those who want to remain in the Establishment, who believe that by doing so they will distance themselves from the furious agitprop while maintaining their status. These people probably hate Ukraine and Ukrainians most deeply and sincerely, the way the conformist intelligentsia herd hated dissidents.
However, many of them are devoid of feelings and emotions. These people belong to mainstream popular culture. Russian law-enforcement agencies keep hunting for Bolotnaya Square protesters. Those “upstairs” realize that their strength is in consistency. This reminds me of those who yelled in the midst of protests about the government being scared and on the verge of collapse. Any noted forecaster will laugh when reminded about it and tell you that they just repeated words then in vogue, that they followed the mainstream trend. You can’t blame people for wearing clothes three years ago that were fashionable at the time. The same is true of words.
The same is true of today’s pacifist appeals. They are in vogue. Now they let you watch on your home screen people who are supposed to be the most outspoken opposition activists – only to encourage the Ukrainian army to surrender. Those in power keep acting on a stick and carrot basis and our progressive community is always there, wagging its tail.
Some confusion was caused by the arrest of a person involved in the Bolotnaya case after he returned from Sloviansk where he had travelled to support the terrorists. The same stand is taken by many leftists and [neo-]Nazis, with whom democrats staged rallies because, they said, such was the all-against-the-government logic, adding that civil society in Russia is starting to transform into National Socialism.
Cratocentrism is a fundamental flaw of the supporters of democracy. They focus on annoying the authorities instead of defending their position, asserting and disseminating their values. However, the point is that they have never had a position, values or principles. Opposition is that part of the Establishment which has views different from those held “upstairs” in regard to the most important aspects of national and international development, and which aims at changing the government. In this sense, there has been no opposition in Russia. There is just part of the political elite in disgrace and those irreplaceably in power are free to put them in the good or bad books, and even destroy them.
Obviously, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine hasn’t changed the situation. Fundamental differences with the government on this issue lead to a loss of status and transition from disgrace into political oblivion. Such is the joint decision of the ruling elite and its disgraced part. Population, given the signal, will have fun finishing off the renegades. Those in power and the opposition are preparing Russia for new great achievements, including the likelihood of a major war.
Dmitry Shusharin is a historian and political journalist