Just as “Crimea is Ours” paled with time as a mobilizing tool, so too Vladimir Putin’s “Great Victory” by itself will be insufficient for him to dominate Russia in the future, says analyst Sergey Ilchenko, And so the Kremlin leader is adding another quiver to his bow, declaring Russia a separate civilization based on hostility to the rest of the world and its representatives inside Russia.
The Ukrainian commentator notes that new surveys show, despite what many had hoped, that the rising generation in Russia is quite prepared to follow that lead – one that resembles Nazism and presages a Russia more oppressive at home and more aggressive abroad (dsnews.ua/world/neo-rossiya-vlast-tnk-natsional-sotsializm-i-agressivnoe-19052020220000).
Mr. Ilchenko reaches that conclusion on the basis of an analysis that begins with the observation that “the post-Soviet cycle of the Russian transformation is approaching its end. A renewed country, which will have grown up on the ruins of the old… promises to be as off-putting, anti-human and bloodthirsty as all its predecessors.”
“This isn’t news,” the Ukrainian analyst continues. “That Russia is not subject to reformation and that from the old Muscovite elite can arise only a new evil has been known from the very beginning.” But “the details of the new Russian project have emerged only recently and are taking ever clearer shape” before our eyes.
According to Mr. Ilchenko, “the old Yeltsin-Putin skin of the Russian reptile is bursting and in a year or two we will see a renewed Russia” once again. What can be seen of its emerging characteristics are anything but encouraging.
He argues that what is occurring now is a struggle between the “siloviki” [institutions of force, i.e., security services and armed forces], out of which Mr. Putin sprung, and the multi-national corporations from which he has profited. The former are all about control and building a fortress Russia; the latter are about making money regardless of borders. Mr. Putin has been astride them both, but maintaining that position is increasingly difficult.
The former have enormous power domestically, and the latter are weak relative to other international corporate players. Indeed, they sometimes have to make concessions to these groups, not out of a commitment to any rules of the game, but rather because the others are stronger than they are.
But because the multinationals have made Mr. Putin and his team so rich, they have been able to force the siloviki to give way on occasion. The pandemic has accelerated that process, Mr. Ilchenko says. That is because it has demonstrated that the siloviki lack the resources “to maintain full control over Russia.”
The more thoughtful of the siloviki are reluctantly willing to do this. They see that Mr. Putin’s sharing of power with regional governments is in fact sharing power with the multinational corporations, most of whom have strong positions in particular regions and thus are able to use them to promote their interests.
But the multinationals, although globalist in one sense, are not any more committed to “the democratization of Russian social life” than are the siloviki. On the contrary, they may be willing to be even more authoritarian in order to maintain the position of the one percent over the 99.
This combination of factors has forced Mr. Putin to look for a new legitimating principle for his rule – one that allows him to keep his base in the siloviki without costing him the wealth of the multinationals. He might have preferred to rely on Russian Orthodoxy, but the national Church is too weak and thus has no chance of becoming the Leninism of the Putin era.
The Kremlin leader currently is relying primarily on the cult of the Great Victory but is beginning to move beyond that to a vision of Russia as “a unique civilization” that must be defended against domestic and foreign enemies. Young Russians are buying into this, with its image of greatness and sacrifice, even though few really want to fall under NATO tanks.
In sum, Mr. Ilchenko says, Mr. Putin appears to have found a winning combination, but not one that points to a more democratic and more cooperative Russia. “ ‘The Great Victory,’ even in combination with ‘the struggle with fascism,’ hasn’t been able to fill the entire ideological niche,” the analyst argues.
Mr. Putin needed something additional, and with the idea of Russia as a separate and distinct civilization up against the rest of the world, which is hostile to it. Moreover, he has found a group to promote this for him – Zakhar Prilepin’s For Truth Party – and thus manage the ideological aspect of the leadership transition.
What is disturbing about all this, Mr. Ilchenko says, is that such an evolution of national bolshevism “looks natural and repeats the path of the National Socialist German Workers Party [the Nazis] which also began by opposing the anti-people plutocracy. There is no doubt that the Prilepin party in 2021 will overcome the electoral barrier and have seats in the Duma.”
That is because “national socialism” of the kind Mr. Putin is outlining now “ideally combines Orthodox obsession with victory” and thus has more than a few supporters in Russia, the Ukrainian commentator says.