Life after Putin: ‘no doubt that political transition looming’


The EU is set to roll over its Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia for a further six months despite signs of the mood towards Moscow softening in some of the bloc’s member states, The Financial Times reports:

Diplomats had feared the move would spark a major political battle between states such as Hungary, Greece and Italy, which favour a rethink on sanctions, and the more hawkish states, including Poland and the Baltic countries, which want the regime to continue.

It is premature to consider lifting sanctions, according to Benjamin Haddad and Hannah Thoburn, research fellows at the Hudson Institute in Washington. In Russia, business interests and political motivations are often one and the same, they write for The Wall Street Journal:

As Moscow tends to leverage economic ties into political influence, gradual divestment from Russia increases Europeans’ ability to conduct their foreign policy autonomously. This should be welcomed. Further measures to roll back the influence of dirty kleptocratic money laundered in Europe, notably through real-estate investments, should accompany this.

But some countries are considering whether to send a political signal to Moscow at the same time, hinting that Europe’s sanctions policy is nearing a turning point, said one senior diplomat involved in the talks.

One senior official with reservations over sanctions said: “Sooner or later we need a deep and detailed discussion on the Russia sanctions, but I expect the December [summit] will be the right moment for this.”

The war in Ukraine showed that Russia is ready to activate any of the frozen conflicts in its neighborhood in order to retain influence there, Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili told EUobserver.

“It’s ready to destabilize half of the Eurasian continent if need be,” he said.

There is not a single issue or position the Kremlin would not abandon for the sake of holding on to power, argues Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of the Open Russia movement. Nuclear war is a completely unexceptionable argument to the Kremlin today. In his desire to preserve his power — a reflection of his total lack of understanding of what normal government means — President Vladimir Putin rejects even the illusion of institutionalization adopted by Soviet leaders, he writes for Politico:

None of the structures of the Soviet era exist anymore. Instead, a gigantic country with a huge arsenal of weapons is hostage to Putin, a man whose experience of government — as became clear with the leaked Panama Papers— was gleaned from criminal gangsters. Bribery, blackmail, deceit and violence are the vices of any badly run government, but for the Kremlin they are a framework it also energetically exports and promotes abroad.

EU leaders and European public opinion should no longer be deceived into thinking they are dealing with a normal state, says Khodorkovsky.

Political transition looming

What will the Russian political landscape look like a decade from now? Is Russia slipping back to the Soviet past or evolving toward greater authoritarianism and aggression? Are those predicting revolution right to see the nucleus of change in civil activism and a new wave of democracy in labor protests? For all the differences in opinion, there is no doubt that a political transition is looming. The question is when and what shape it might take, notes analyst Andrei Kolesnikov:

Putin’s departure would not guarantee immediate well-being and a “happily ever after.” His successors could be extremist nationalists—compared to certain members of his retinue, Putin already looks like the very embodiment of rationality. However, history shows that transitions usually lead from rigid authoritarianism to liberalization, whether mild or more radical (for instance, the progression from Stalin to Khrushchev or from Brezhnev-Andropov-Chernenko to Gorbachev). The specific individuals matter, but the consensus—both within the elite and civil society—generally leans toward change in such situations.

To the degree to which the West is capable to act, it can define the playing field, says the Transatlantic Academy’s  Ulrich Speck:

The West must take the challenge from Russia seriously and must push back in a friendly but decisive manner: by affirming the rules of the international order and by the use of sanctions. The more firm and united Europe and the United States are, the better will they be able to keep the new East-West conflict in the arena where they are immensely stronger than Russia: in the field of the economy and diplomacy.

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