Twilight of the Putin Era?


While the Kremlin’s new national security strategy is not devoid of foreign policy goals, it is actually heavily focused on Russia itself, notes Olga Oliker. In this context, it’s notable that a consistent theme throughout is values, she writes for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS):

Specifically, there are fairly frequent references (ten by my count) to “traditional Russian spiritual-moral values.” This formulation is new—prior government strategic documents referenced values, but not in quite this way, and certainly not this often. Here, these values are described as having been reborn. They are now in need of development, reinforcement, and protection from foreign values, which might spread through information campaigns and “poor-quality” foreign popular culture. The threats to these values come both from the West and from terrorists and extremists. Interestingly, a few times the discussion of values is paired with appeals to the unity of Russian culture and morals and the Russian tradition of ethnic, racial, and religious tolerance.

“All in all, the emphasis on traditional values, whatever they are, seems part and parcel of an effort to strengthen national unity, listed as another national security interest at the outset,” Oliker suggests. “It is, however, a little difficult to reconcile with existing Russian policies, laws, and (especially) practices, which tend to privilege ethnic Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church over and above others. In this context, the document’s call to balance the needs of labor migrants and local populations, particularly in cultural and religious contexts, raises some questions.” RTWT

In addition to the lack of an alternative and the willingness to resort to repression, Russia’s future trajectory will be determined by several factors that suggest muddling through and continuity with the present regime, argues analyst Donald N. Jensen:

Russia’s cultural, historical and political traditions, which make autocracy the rule rather than the exception; the disorientation of both masses and political elites, who oppose Western-style democratic pluralism; and memories of the 1991 collapse, which contribute to the popular fear of the unknown and new upheavals. The regime also has significant, though diminished, administrative resources to buy loyalty. These forces likely will provide the leadership with significant room for maneuver over the short to medium term, despite deteriorating conditions.

But several factors pose the possibility of an abrupt discontinuity, Jensen writes for the Center for Transatlantic Relations/DGAP:

They include: the end of the old social contract that guaranteed popular welfare and security and the inadequacy of “patriotic mobilization’ as a replacement; the emergence of social groups who no longer wish to sacrifice their standard of living for the sake of militarization or great power status; the further deepening of the economic crisis which could generate a wave of discontent; and the regime’s corruption and cynicism, which some Russians can no longer bear.

Two additional variables may become especially decisive for the fate of the current regime, Jensen adds:

  • The first are the interests of Russia’s corrupt elite, which have become economically integrated into Western society through bank accounts and real estate holdings and opposes Russia’s international isolation.
  • The second is the willingness of the so-called siloviki, who pull the system in the opposite direction, to support the regime. Their loyalty to Putin cannot be assumed and is not automatic. It is unclear, moreover, the extent to which regime change would accelerate the system’s decline, or whether it would give it a new lease on life, however, short-lived that lease may be.

“As the noted analyst Lilia Shevtsova has pointed out, Russia is trapped, since its system of personalized power undermines its own foundations,” he adds. “On the one hand, the regime cannot survive as a peaceful “normal state” and has had to turn to military-political mobilization. On the other hand, it is not strong enough for a real fight with the West. All signs indicate, however, that the hard men in charge of the Kremlin have no intention of leaving the stage as meekly as did Mikhail Gorbachev.”


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