Neither sanctions, nor international isolation nor the domestic opposition will lead to the fall of “the harshly authoritarian and semi-totalitarian regime” that is Vladimir Putin’s, according to Andrey Illarionov. It was pass from the scene only “as the result of a military defeat abroad.
After such a defeat, “the chances for the replacement of the regime will increase sharply,” and in support of his argument he points to a series of cases in Russian history ranging from the Time of Troubles in the early 17th century to the defeats in the Afghan and Cold wars at the end of the 20th.
Today, the Russian analyst continues, “the level of support for the regime by Russians remains significant and the opposition has been marginalized,” a reflection of the fact that regimes like Putin’s “operate above all on effectively functioning mechanisms of propaganda and terror.”
As long as those “machines” continue to work – “regardless of the situation of the economy, social sphere, education, health or anything else – the regime will maintain a high level of stability. Now in Russia,” Illarionov continues, “both these machines work almost without any problems.”
Thus, he says, “the replacement of the current Russian regime hardly will take place as a result of the crisis, a growth of social tension, a decline in the price of oil, foreign sanctions or a coup in the ruling hierarchy. The replacement of such regimes if it happens at all is the result of defeat abroad.”
To a certain extent, Illarionov says, “the Kremlin regime suffered defeat both in Georgia and in Ukraine” if one compares the Kremlin’s goals and what Russia achieved. “However from the point of view of a large part of the Russian population, these were not defeats,” but something else entirely.
Illarionov’s argument recalls those of some of the early theorists of totalitarianism who suggested that such regimes could keep themselves in power more or less indefinitely unless they were defeated in a foreign war. Many of these later changed their minds, suggesting that economic change could force regime change as well.
But there is one more reason to be certain that the Putin regime will eventually disappear. Putin is not, despite what some of his supporters appear to think, a god; and he will not live forever. And there seems little chance that even he can create a system that will replace him after his death with someone who will rule in just the same way he does.