Work for two pianos

It appears that the massive military attack on Georgia, which all the signs and background now suggest was planned by Russia’s leadership long in advance, had several purposes. As some analysts have pointed out, not the least of these may have been the aim of the Moscow power elites to scupper the chances of any far-reaching modernization of Russia, a  process which a few Western experts had believed might ensue with the accession of Dmitry Medvedev to the presidency. In a new EDM article, Jonas Bernstein quotes and discusses some statements made by political analyst Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center in a  recent interview with TV/radio presenter Yevgeny Kiselyov. Shevtsova’s main thesis is that Russia’s “tandem leadership” has come unstuck because of its own anti-Western propaganda. Excerpt:

Kiselyov noted that in the wake of the five-day Russo-Georgian war, Medvedev and Putin had spent a lot of time meeting with Western politicians, journalists, and political scientists (he was apparently referring, among other things, to the fifth annual Valdai Club meeting). Yet while such meetings appeared to have been aimed, at least in part, at mending fences, Kiselyov pointed out that both leaders had also made a number of harsh statements and accusations aimed at the West, which would seem to undermine the goal of improving relations.

This contradictory behavior demonstrates how the system of power over which Putin and Medvedev preside forces them to “play two pianos at the same time,” said Shevtsova. “On the one hand, Putin, Medvedev, and the Kremlin elite are fully aware that further escalation of the confrontation with the West would be ruinous for that very power, for that very system, because it is a system of a class of rentiers who sell raw materials … to the West and survive that way; that is, they cannot afford a confrontation, much less a war, with the West,” she said. “And they obviously understand that they went too far and need to back off. That’s the performance on one piano. The second piano must play a different melody, namely, they are nonetheless consolidating Russia on the basis of anti-Western rhetoric; that is, they are … keeping the country under control by using the image of a besieged fortress. And everything depends on gamesmanship that consists of combining what would seem to be incompatible: to be an enemy of the West and simultaneously to show that we, in principle, do not rule out … negotiations and even a partnership with the West.”

According to Shevtsova, beginning at least in 2004 (when Putin moved to centralize political power in the wake of the Beslan hostage crisis), the Kremlin created a system that uses perceived outside threats as a way to mobilize society. “And now the architects who created a type of system that is consolidated on the basis of searching for enemies … have become slaves and hostages of that system, and this will be very difficult to halt,” she said. “In any case, they have now, it seems to me, taken an irretrievable step–I mean, in August 2008 [the attack on Georgia]. They have created a watershed between the old epoch, when there was hope for Russia’s integration with the West, and a new epoch, in which Western public opinion … regards Russia as an alien civilization.

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