Sunday, July 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Faces Authoritarian or Democratic Disintegration, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – The Pugachev events like “a magic crystal” allow one to look into Russia’s future, a future that will involve either an authoritarian disintegration resembling that of the former Yugoslavia and likely extending over several years or a democratic one that could occur more quickly and easily, according to a Russian analyst now living abroad.

            In a 2000-word article posted on on Friday, Leonid Storch bases his conclusion on three aspects of contemporary Russian life: First, the share of the Russian population that benefits from and therefore is willing to support the current regime is declining, especially in the regions outside of Moscow (

                Second, the regime is unwilling to conduct dialogue about or even acknowledge the presence of three distinct conflicts – between liberalism and authoritarianism, between the regions and Moscow, and among ethnic groups – and the propensity of these conflicts to coalesce thus making the resolution of any one of them more difficult if not impossible.

            And third, the combination of massive corruption in the elites and the absence of popular participation in the government are now so widespread that in the absence of truly revolutionary change one or the other of these or quite possibly a combination of the two will survive the departure of Putin.

            Putin will not go voluntarily, Storch says. He has some decided that the laws of historical succession and the replacement of political generations do not apply to him: he was, is and will be and he and his entourage are irreplaceable.”  But given the main tensions in Russiann society, “a revolution,” peaceful or violent, “is practically inevitable.”

            “Theoretically,” the Russian analyst says, “the replacement of the Putin stagnation autocracy with an all-Russian centrist dictatorship is possible,” and also “theoretically possible” is the transformation of the country “into a genuine and not nominal as now federation with a liberal-democratic form of administration like for example Belgium.”

            But the first of these variants is something old-fashioned and unlikely because of that, and the second presupposes “too high a level of civic consciousness which Russians do not have and will not have in the next few decades.” Consequently, “the most probable scenario” will be one in which “the Russian Federation will disintegrate on the initiative of regional elites.” 

            The Pugachev events show how such “an authoritarian de-federalization” could occur, Storch argues, all the more so because “the murder of Mardhanov was only the occasion for the protest” rather than its real cause which was opular anger about the inability of the authorities to provide adequate living conditions.

             The events in Pugachev are “much closer to a popular revolution” than were the Bolotnoye demonstrations.  Unlike the latter, the Pugachev rising was spontaneous and reflected feelings in the depths of the population.  Much more important, Pugachev was not a middle class enterprise but something that reflects the real demographic face of the country.

            So far, Pugachev has been a series of protests and demonstrations, but it is easy to imagine how it could turn into a revolutionary situation, Storch says.  If an angry crowd confronts a group of policemen who are suffering the same waya the protesters are, the situation could lead either to a bloody clash or worse the police going over to the side of the people.

            In this way, the new Russian revolution “will begin according to the scenario of [1905’s] Bloody Sunday and end like the post-August 1991] putsch with its flight of republics out of the USSR.”

            “The disintegration of Russia appears to be a more than realistic outcome of a revolution especially because it already began a long time ago,” with the collapse of the Soviet Union. That was “its first phase, because with the exception of the Baltics and the Trans-Caucasus, the territories which separated were part of the Russian [world] … or historically close to it.”

            And “present-day Russia,” Storch argues, “despite its name was and remains a downsized variant of the Soviet Union; that is, not a federation but an empire with a presidential form of administration.” It is falling apart and will continue to do so possibly all at once or possibly “over the course of several years as was the case with the collapse of Yugoslavia.”

            In place of the Russian Federation, he suggests, “several dozen new states” – he suggested “about 30” – will appear, “connected by the principle of collective security and in the political arena [with] 30 little Putins instead of one.” It could happen, however, that in some regions, “good sense will triumph” and the regimes will be better than that.

            And there is a powerful reason for assuming that will be the case: “to create an effective, democratic, and non-corrupt system on a small territory is much simpler than on one which occupies a seventh of the earth’s land surface.” That is the lesson of what has happened in the Baltic countries, Poland and Finland.

            But at the same time, there is the danger that this process of disintegration will feature at lest in some places “armed conflicts, ethnic purges and the establishment of local authoritarian regimes.”  That mixed picture is the case in the post-Soviet states, and it thus likely to be the case in the post-Russian ones as well.

            Putin’s unwillingness to address the problems Russia faces and his blocking of any democratic means of succession ensures “the regime will be replaced by revolution,” and “one of the results of the revolutionary transformations will be the partial or complete defederalization” as a result of “dissatisfaction with the extraordinary centralization” of the Putinist state.

            What is most likely, Storch concludes, is that “defederaliation as was the case with the disintegration fot he Soviet Union will be carried out from above by regionl elites without any taking into account of the opinion of the electorate” and that this in the future “will generate new social tensions across the Russian space.”


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