Neither revolt nor reform inevitable in Russia now, three experts say

Poverty in Russia

 

2015/09/10 • Analysis & Opinion, Russia

In recent months, many analysts and commentators have drawn apocalyptic conclusions from Russia’s current difficulties predicting revolt or even revolution or suggesting that the Putin regime will have to reform or be replaced by a Russian government that will implement change.

But three of the most thoughtful analysts on Russia today – Irina Pavlova, Andrey Illarionov, and Vladislav Inozemtsev – all argue that neither revolt nor reform is inevitable in a country like Russia and that expecting one or the other or even more basing one’s policies on such outcomes is a mistake.

Irina Pavlova, Russian historian

Irina Pavlova, Russian historian

Irina Pavlova, a Russian historian who lives in the US, argues that the recent flood of apocalyptic predictions about radical change in Russia’s immediate future “only make more difficult an understanding of what is taking place.” Viewed dispassionately, the situation appears stable and likely to remain so for some time.

The Putin regime has been “throwing down challenges to Western civilization” not since 2014 but for far longer on the basis of ideas developed by pro-Kremlin intellectuals about the need to “contain” and restrain the United States, a goal achievable they suggest given Russia’s objectively weaker status by frequent provocations.

“The current powers not only learned this ‘art’ from Stalin but have excelled him because they have mastered the contemporary methods of conducting information wars, hacker attacks, subversion, provocations, and intimidation, nuclear and energy,” Pavlova argues.

She continues by observing that she is “certain that Putin does not intend to begin a broad-scale military operation against Kyiv” because, she says “with regret,” Putin “has achieved all that he wants there. Ukraine has lost Crimea,” and Kyiv is in a position now where it will have to struggle against provocations in the Donbas for many years ahead.

For today, Pavlova concludes, “Putin and his entourage are satisfied” because they “have achieved changes in the situation both in Russia itself and in the world. The population of Russia is consolidated around the authorities and has never before been so negatively inclined against the West in general and the US in particular.”

“Never since the moment of Victory in 1945 has Stalin occupied in the public life of the land the place of spiritual leader and model of a state leader.” And now, at the end of this month, Putin is going to the United Nations to speak to the General Assembly.

Andrey Illarionov, Russian economist

Andrey Illarionov, Russian economist

Andrey Illarionov, a Moscow economist, approaches the issue from the point of view of Russia’s current economic difficulties and reaches similar conclusions. He notes that the current crisis is not as serious as some earlier ones that did not produce revolts or changes and therefore little reason to assume this one will.

“The absence of a direct (directly proportional) link between the difficulties of the economic situation and the probability of changes in the political regime testifies to the presence of other factors which play a more important role in political changes,” Illarionov continues, something that in a counter-intuitive way may be the basis for optimism.

That is because Russian history suggests, he says, that “the probability of the change of the political regime under conditions of a relatively short and shallow crisis appear to be higher than in conditions of a broader economic catastrophe.”

Vladislav Inozemtsev, Russian economist

Vladislav Inozemtsev, Russian economist

Vladislav Inozemtsev, another Moscow economic analyst, addresses the issue of crisis and change most directly. He says that there will not be either a revolt or reforms anytime soon and he notes that those predicting such things are the very same people who were predicting them five or even ten years ago.

According to him, “the situation looks more stable than in any year of the last 15,” and there are obvious reasons related to the fact that “evolutionary changes in Russia are impossible for two reasons.”

On the one hand, for change of that kind, one needs a culture in which the minority can become a majority, something not possible in Russia given the overwhelming power of the state and the deference to the powers that be to it. That reflects the country’s imperial past and its tendency to divide everyone into the categories of “we” versus “they.”

That means that even when it would be to their advantage, those in power cannot tolerate those who criticize them but instead seek to marginalize or suppress their critics. The generation of the 1960s would not have been a threat to the Kremlin if Soviet power had accepted some of its proposals. But the regime didn’t, the generation became dissidents, and violent change followed.

If the current Russian government would be willing to listen to some of its critics and include them with its ranks, the leadership would find them far more loyal than the “fifth column” and “foreign agents” it suspects them of being. As a result, “the minority will never become a majority and evolutionary change won’t happen.”

Related to this, Inozemtsev says, is that Russian regimes do everything to keep society from forming a social fabric which could be the basis for “slow reforms” and instead seek to promote “the maximum individualization of people” who are thus easier to divide and conquer and to exploit.

“In such circumstances,” he continues, “It turns out that individual (including corrupt) action always is more effective than collective, and this is not a question of morality or law; this is a question of economics.” Only when one takes the system on “one on one” can you get something; trying to do so collectively almost always fails.

Some Russians choose to leave when they recognize this, and today “emigration from Russia already exceeds the levels of the most difficult post-perestroika years.” It would be “naïve” to think it is going to decline in size anytime soon. In addition, “’imitation’ elections and even social movements are finally devaluing the majority of public initiatives.”

But at the same time, Inozemtsev continues, “the revolutionary destruction of the system today is also extremely improbable.” On the one hand, revolutions in the absence of an ideological core require massive impoverishment on a scale much greater than Russia’s. Consequently, the population doesn’t want to rock the boat lest it lose what it has.

And on the other, revolutions generally require a social force capable of leading it, an advanced class if you will. “In Russia of the beginning of the 21st century,” he says, “there is no such ‘advancedclass which could strive for a revolution in the hope of becoming its beneficiary.”

Consequently, Russia’s future is likely to be like that of Latin America, of Argentina, Venezuela, and perhaps Peru, countries which haven’t sought democracy but instead have histories of the flourishing of corruption, localism, bureaucratic overreach, and constant involvement in local conflicts.

“In order to understand [Russia’s] future,” Inozemtsev concludes, “one should focus attention on the news from Buenos Aires and Caracas: the end of these countries will be like that which awaits us. But neither there nor [in Russia] will it happen quickly.”

Edited by: A. N.

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