Why Putin Is Still In Power

In late 2011 the Russian scientist, writer and political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky gave an interview to the Institute of Modern Russia that was headed: Which Will Fall First – the Regime or Russia as a State? In the interview, Piontkovsky predicted the collapse of Vladimir Putin’s government, though refused to speculate on how long it would take – it might be a process lasting only a couple of weeks, or it might be a long-drawn-out decline spanning several years. Piontkovsky looked to the spread of people power – the kind of power that was then making itself felt throughout the Middle East in the shape of the Arab Spring. This power had the ability to overcome the rigid structures of the state:

How did it all start in North Africa? In Tunisia, a relatively prosperous country by African standards, a young man set himself on fire because he couldn’t find a job. Putin’s regime has ripened to its end. But the end will come later rather than sooner, because of the already mentioned satiated, lazy, and cowardly elite. Still, today’s macroeconomic indicators place serious time limitations. And with serious budget deficits, ruble devaluation, and double-digit inflation, social outbursts will spontaneously form in various regions. All this will push the elite to a greater sense of courage. Which will fall first – the regime or Russia as a state – will become crystal clear to everyone in about three or four years from now. 

In late 2012, Piontkovsky published an article called Why Putin Will Be Gone in 2013,  in which he predicted that Putinism would fall for the same reason that the Soviet Union fell in 1991. The USSR, he wrote, collapsed “not because of falling oil prices, not because of Gorbachev’s ‘betrayal’, and not because of Reagan’s SDI bluff which so terrified the old men in the Kremlin. When in the mid-1980s the communist myth that had created the system finally died in the hearts and minds of ordinary people as well as those of the Soviet nomenklatura, Soviet communism was strategically and psychologically doomed. As Andrei Amalrik had predicted with such genius a quarter of a century earlier.” [my tr.]

Likewise, the Putin Myth of the strong man, the “father of the nation”, protecting it from the Chechen terrorists who were supposedly blowing up peaceful citizens in their apartment blocks, had run out of steam – Russia’s techno-financial elite, Piontkovsky argued, had lost faith in this myth, and without the elite’s support the Putin system could not survive.

Of course, Putin is still there, so Piontkovsky’s prediction was incorrect – as numerous columnists and observers have not been slow to point out. In an article titled Putin or Russia, published at the very end of 2013, Piontkovsky conceded the point, but insisted that the article’s “conceptual carcass” – an outline for a theory of the death of authoritarian regimes and its practical application to contemporary Russia – was still fully backed up by the events that had taken place in Russia during the past year. As a retarding factor, he pointed to the attitude of intellectuals like Leonid Radzihovsky, who for years declared that “Putinism is shit – but it protects us from fascism”. This, Piontkovsky argues, is no different from the statement by the Silver Age Russian essayist and philosopher Mikhail Gerzhenzon, who in the aftermath of the 1905 revolution declared in the essay anthology Vekhi that  “so far from dreaming of union with the people we ought to fear the people and bless this government which, with its prisons and bayonets, still protects us from the people’s fury.”

Now Piontkovsky no longer sees hope that Russia might witness the rise of a popular democratic movement like Ukraine’s Euromaidan. Apathy reigns – and, if not yet formally in power, the fascists are very nearly there:

It was not the masses that brought Hitler to power in January 1933, but a deal he made with the elites. And now ask yourself: what do the fascists in Russia need to do in order to take power without winning free elections, but as a result of the internal  evolution of the Putin regime, of a deal made with it by – may one say it – the “elites”? Is their task easier or harder? In my opinion, much easier. In their case they don’t have to convince 50 million voters. It will be enough to convince three or four villains of the national leader’s inner circle. And they need no convincing.  [my tr.]

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