Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Four Paths for Russia Now Have Leaders, St. Petersburg Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – A year ago, Dmitry Travin, a professor at St. Petersburg’s European University, examined several possible trajectories for Russian development which he labeled the Polish, the Korean, the Mexican and the Russian, each of which he argued reflected radically different choices by the population and the elite.

            The Polish variant, he argued at the time, would involve “negotiations of the authorities with the opposition.” The Korean would involve pre-emptive democratization; the Mexican, “the formation of a party of power in place of the rule of one leader;” and the Russian, “a revolution as the result of resistance of the authorities who would not want to make any compromise.”

            Now, in an article posted on the Rosbalt news agency portal yesterday, Travin suggests that these possibilities have acquired Russian leaders and argues that their names – Aleksey Kudrin, Mikhail Prokhorov, Dmitry Medvedev, and Aleksey Navalny rather than that of another country should be used for each of the four (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2013/07/22/1155110.html).

            They are not directly competing with one another, Travin says, because “the development of events will depend not so much on the activity of  the leaders as on the objective circumstances” including the state of the economy, power relations in the Kremlin, the amount of public protest, “and many other factors” as well.

            What the St. Petersburg scholar called “the Kudrin path” would involve a softening of the regime in response to protests and a willingness of those in power to negotiate with the public.  So far, however, “the Kremlin has not taken this path.” But economic problems may force it to change directions.

            Putin understands this, Travin says, but at present, “there is no political will” for making this fundamental shift, and there appears to be the hope that rising oil prices and declining protest activity will ultimately make any shift unnecessary. But many in the elite think that Kudrin was right when he called for talks between the regime and the people, if only to improve the investment climate.

            The “Prokhorov path” refers to Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform which occupies “a niche between the systemic and the extra-systemic opposition.”  While most opposition figures have no hope of getting elected to the Duma, Prokhorov is still seeking to even as he works to avoid falling under the control of the regime.

            By failing to run for Moscow mayor, Prokhorov has weakened himself because he will not have a chance to compete electorally now until December 2016. Indeed, to stay in the game, he has to cooperate with the authorities more than he would like, and now, Travin says, he can only hope that the current regime will crumble sooner.

            But if it doesn’t and if Prokhorov continues on his current path, the St. Petersburg scholar says, he will have “greater chances” in 2016 “than Just Russia which is compromising itself and the extra-systemic opposition” which has not ready or able to compete in such elections.

            The third path, Travin says is “Medvedev’s path.”  Despite the expectations of many, Medvedev is still in office as prime minister and may remain there for some time. If so, he may be able to run in 2018 or 2024, “but for this strategy to be successful, Medvedev must demonstrate absolute loyalty.” That will limit his ability to move in a different direction later.

            Finally, the fourth path is “Navalny’s path.”  He is now the only extra-systemic leader and anyone else in that camp who tries to compete will now be viewed “not as a worthy competitor” but “as a traitor breaking the ranks of those struggling with the regime and putting a knife in the back of those who are already suffering from Kremlin intrigues”

            If there is a revolution this year, it will bear his name. “The only question is whether such a revolution will occur.” If the regime adopts a hard line, pressures will build, and its opposition to Navalny will only make him more popular and Putin less so.

            Indeed, Travin writes, “one charismatic in revolutionary conditions must replace another, and other than Navalny, there in fact is no one who can pretend to that status. Some do not want to, and others can’t.”

            But if the Kremlin adopts a softer line, then no revolution will occur,” and the population “will select candidates proposed ‘from above’ instead of removing from the political scene the entire systemic elite.”

            Summing up, Travin stresses that “each of these four is not competing with the other three; each is strong in its own area.” And it is of course possible that “Putin will rule the country as Brezhnev did to the end of his life. But after that, another game will begin, with entirely different actors.”

            However that may be, the St. Petersburg analyst concludes, “the current political regime does not have strategic prospects.  The question is only under what scenario will it disintegrate.”

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