Despite the horrors Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to inflict on Ukraine, increasingly frequent calls in Moscow for the Kremlin leader to conduct a Stalinist-style crackdown and his disposition to follow them could very well mean that the citizens of the Russian Federation will in the end be the greatest victims of Putin’s policies.
That danger has not attracted the attention it deserves because Putin’s actions at home have been more deliberate and less mediagenic than his moves in Ukraine. Until recently at least, he has behaved more like the man who killed a frog by slowly bringing the water in a pot to boil rather than simply hacking off its head.
But that may be beginning to change, and it is likely to change faster if the Kremlin leader is forced to stop or even back down in Ukraine, given the criticism he would receive from some Russians for doing so and given suggestions by an increasing number of commentators that Russia and Putin himself are threatened by internal enemies and that he must move against them.
An example of this kind of argument is provided this week on KM.ru by Konstantin Sivkov, the president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, who directly says that “if Putin does not defeat the fifth column [inside Russia], he will suffer the fate of Yanukovych,” the ousted Ukrainian president.
Putin is absolutely correct that no one is going to attack Russia with a tank column, Sivkov says. Russia is a nuclear power. But he and other Russian leaders are necessarily concerned by the threat of “color revolutions” and the internal enemies, supported from the outside, that could make one.
“It has become clear,” he says, “that the United States is seriously approaching the issue of the preparation of a revolution inside Russia. Putin understands” what that could mean. The issue now is “how will he neutralize this threat?”
Clearly, the Kremlin leader needs to strike at the organizers who include not only the self-declared opposition but also the oligarchs and “those bureaucrats who have burrowed into power from Yeltsin’s times.” There must not be “two powers” in Russia, the political and the financial. Were that to occur, “one of them in the end would be subordinate to the other.”
In the United States, Wall Street dominates the nominal political leadership, Sivkov says. “In Russia, there are two scenarios.” Either Putin will become the agent of the oligarchs “or he will transform himself into the unqualified leader of the country.” If he wants to become a genuinely great leader, he really has only one choice: to become a leader like Stalin.”
If Putin doesn’t suppress “the activities of the entire fifth column” and completely replace “the liberal cadres in the leadership of the country,” Sivkov says, he can look forward to a fate like Yanukovych of Ukraine. The latter at least had a place to retreat to. Putin doesn’t. And that should drive his policies.