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Like his ‘hybrid wars,’ Putin’s ‘hybrid repressions’ are all too real, Tuomi says

A sign at the site of the murder of the prominent Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov near the Kremlin in Moscow (Image:
The site of the murder of the prominent Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov near the Kremlin in Moscow (Image:
Like his ‘hybrid wars,’ Putin’s ‘hybrid repressions’ are all too real, Tuomi says

Some in Russia and in the West appear to think that if one inserts the world “hybrid” in front of any crime, it becomes less serious and more acceptable. But just as Vladimir Putin’s “hybrid wars” abroad remain real wars regardless of the adjective, so too his “hybrid repressions” at home are all too real as well, Andrey Tuomi says.

Andrey Tuomi (Image:
Andrey Tuomi

Picking up on Mark Twain’s remark that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” the Karelian commentator argues that

Stalinist mass repressions aren’t returning to Russia but that is only because the current powers that be don’t need them now given the state of the population.

“Widespread bloody repressions in [Russia] had to be applied only once in order for the people of Russia to become absolutely governable for an entire century,” Tuomi continues. The rest of the time, the powers that be only had to “’rhyme history’ thereby threatening people with repressions so that the country would become docile, uncomplaining and compliant.”

That doesn’t mean that the Putin regime isn’t repressing the population just as Stalin did, only that it is using the media and the memories of the population to achieve its goals, boosted occasionally by targeted attacks against and even murders of its opponents to re-inject the fears it relies upon.

Stalinism “rhymed” this way under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, “when it turned out to be sufficient to punish the people of the sixties and the dissidents so that the rest of ‘the gray masses’ would correctly read the signals” the Kremlin wanted them to. The latter could have done even more, but they didn’t have any need. Neither does Putin.

“The Putin regime,” he continues, “hasn’t been able to think up anything new,” however often the word “hybrid” is applied. Perhaps the only difference is the skill with which the Kremlin dictator has used information resources to keep fear alive and thus to keep himself in power.

The only thing the regime can produce are new enemies lists, given that Russia’s economy is in free fall and things are so bad that soon the Kremlin may have to begin “mass amnesties” of prisoners because those it can no longer afford to feed those it is keeping in its jails and camps.

But given that reality, “there can’t be any talk about “mass repressions” of the Stalinist kind. The Putin regime simply can’t afford them. “Psychological repressions,” however, are another matter; and together with the occasion physical kind, they are in full flower in Russia today.

“In Russia today,” Tuomi says, “an unusually effective, and — what is most important — quite cheap mechanism of massive psychological repressions has been created,” again something the addition of the word “hybrid’ makes no less real and unfortunate.

This mechanism, Tuomi says, has two main functions:

  • “To sow confusion and fear of punishment among the rear population of the empire”
  • To point to the existence “in its ranks of ‘spies, provocateurs, and panic mongers’” who are ready to sell out Russia to the West, like Stalin’s SMERSH.

Not all Russians have fallen victim to this, of course, and against them, the powers that be are prepared to use the powers of the state as well as the powers of the media to destroy or force them into emigration or silence. And if that isn’t enough, they are even ready to kill them as was the case with Boris Nemtsov.

His “murder of course created certain problems for the Russian power elite, but the dividends it received from this action were incomparably greater.” It showed just how far the powers that be are in fact prepared to go, gave them new leverage against clans within the elite, and reinforced the notion that “’all who are not with us’” can expect a bad end.

“It would be incorrect to suppose that the hybrid repressive machine operates in exactly the same way in all regions of the Russian Federation,” Tuomi says. There is a great range, from the completely repressed situation in Chechnya where officials use violence regularly to “relatively free Karelia” where the bosses are forced to use other means.

In Karelia, the governor and his team “lacking the possibility of totally influencing and struggling with the republic media, has adopted a different approach, one based on expelling from the ranks of the Karelian opposition its key players and neutralizing or limiting their public activity or significance.”

It has slandered some, exiled others, and sought to place the remaining ones in impossible situations. So far, this has kept the governor and his team in office, but all too often it has backfired on them given that greater international attention to what is happening there has limited Petrozavodsk’s actions.

The powers that be have no choice but to engage in such “hybrid repressions” because their survival depends on Moscow’s continuing to believe that they have the situation under control. If the center ceases to believe that, those now in office in Petrozavodsk will be replaced by others.

“How long will hybrid repressions in Karelia in particular and in the Russian Federation in general continue” given that “like any other historically rhymed episode, the current mechanism of psychological repressions sooner or later will cease to work?” Tuomi asks rhetorically.

Either it will become “too routine” to be taken seriously or it will “cease to be capable of dealing with growing dissatisfaction in the population,” the Karelian writer says. As long as the opposition can be kept atomized, the regime can continue as it is. But if it faces mass unrest, then “hybrid repressions” will no longer work.

Given that increasing popular unhappiness will demonstrate how hollow Putin’s 86 percent approval rating is and that the expression of such unhappiness will be “spontaneous, massive, and uncontrollable from above,” one can assume that the regime will strike back and strike back hard, something that will raise the stakes of this clash.

But history in Russia “rhymes” not only with repressive periods of the past but also with what inevitably follows them. “For every Stalin, there is his own 20th Congress. This is only a question of time, for history is pitiless: it rhymes not only with terror and dictators; it rhymes and takes revenge over them as well.”


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