What happens these days in Russia is explicable and in a great degree even predictable – but that to understand, one must forget about traditional norms and logic as they that exist in democratic nations and analyze Putin’s moves as they are, argues Vladislav Inozemtsev, Senior Visiting Fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington (DC) and Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
As for how the current regime may end, two options are now the most realistic, he writes for the Center for Transatlantic Relations/DGAP:
- The first option presents itself if Putin dies or becomes incapacitated for some reason (it is unlikely that this would happen as a result of a coup d’état or a conspiracy). As was seen clearly seen in 2011-2012, Putin’s regime is not a systemic regime, such as ones established in Mexico in the early 20th century or in China after Mao’s death. It is purely dependent on just one particular person. Those in Putin’s circle owe their positions and wealth only to him, and they have no basis to claim that they somehow are a better fit or more qualified for the top job in the country. Therefore one may expect either a quarrel that may destroy the “power vertical,” or a change in political course that may allow the Russian political/financial elite to renegotiate its relationship with the rest of the world to secure its wealth and avoid an unnecessary showdown. Putin’s disappearance is unlikely to bring to power even more conservative people, since the current break with the West could be orchestrated only by such a charismatic figure as Putin himself (and it took even him more than a decade to turn from a “Russian European” into the foe of the Western world). Any other politician would not be as argumentative and thus less likely to exacerbate or continue current trends.
- A second option may be considered if the current economic crisis becomes more aggravated, oil prices dip under $35/bbl and Western sanctions continue to ruin Russia’s financial sector. Since, Russia these days appears more like a big corporation that delivers quite healthy profits and benefits for the politicians and bureaucrats who own it, this option may be considered if the ”corporation” goes into the ”red” and begins to generate constant losses. If you are a governor of a particular region and you profit from the construction company that belongs to your son; if you are Putin’s close friend and build bridges or railroads funded from the budget, pocketing half of the money; or if you are the minister for agriculture and at the same time Europe’s biggest landlord – everything goes well as long as people buy the apartments you build, the budget has funds for the bridges you construct, and the land you own constantly grows in value. But if there are no buyers, the budget is deep in the red, and everybody wants to sell land rather than buy it, things look different. You may take a few million dollars from your Swiss accounts and cover the losses for a year or two, but you cannot do this indefinitely. And if the state has no money, it will press even oil and commodity companies and take away their profits. With no investment there would be no perspective – and at this point the government would lose its attractiveness. As the Soviet elite just disappeared in late 1991, the new Russian elite might one by one render up their positions and settle abroad, where everything is ready to accommodate these ”devoted patriots”.
“The system Putin has created in Russia should be studied further, and in a deeper way, since it is one of the most sophisticated authoritarian systems that ever existed,” Inozemtsev adds. “It possesses enormous reserves to confront any changes and any challenges, and it is headed by a highly talented populist who has every chance to rule the country for the rest of his life. What this system cannot do, however, is sustain itself after Putin leaves office. And nobody today can tell you with any certainty how Russia may look ‘after Putin’”.