The aging of the guard in Putin’s Russia
Vladimir Putin, who came to power more than 20 years ago as a symbol of youth, strength and vitality, is today confronted with an uncomfortable truth. Anyway, his previously rock-solid diet is starting to look a little tired.
Russian government recent violent repressions against protesters across the country has taken a well worn path. They reported that the Kremlin was no longer prepared to let the public vent against widespread government corruption, or the detention of government critic Alexey Navalny, who was immediately arrested on his return to Russia, having recovered. an attempt to kill him with military grade chemical weapon in 2020.
This does not mean that the Russian government is under immediate threat. She saw what happened in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, and she devoted considerable resources to protecting herself against “color” revolutions extending to Russia. His use of disinformation, RP black, proxy violence, cyber attacks and the dominance of public discourse are a reminder that the weapons Putin has used against others – in Crimea, Ukraine, the Baltic States, the UK and the US – have long gone been refined against its own people.
This time, Putin’s enemies are inside Russia’s gates and not just against them.
Still, Putin’s leadership looks old because it is more and more is old, especially in a country where the life expectancy of men – who dominate the political classes – is only 66 years.
Putin himself is approaching his 70th birthday and has already signaled that he wants to retire. Among his potential heirs, Nikolai Patrushev (the secretary of the Security Council of Russia) is older than Putin. The youngest Kremlin clan, led by the more moderate Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and former President Dmitry Medvedev, is also probably the weakest. Putin’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is 70 years old and has been repeatedly denied his requests for surrender to someone younger.
Recent protests have also been dominated by young Russians, exacerbating the view of an aging political elite losing touch with the younger generations. Having already successful to depoliticize Russian youth and learn from Protests against Pussy Riot from 2012 the government went to important lengths to keep young people away from demonstrations. He planned surprise exams, asked parents to forbid their children to attend and decried the “brainwashing” of young people by Navalny – himself regularly painted by state media like an idiot, a CIA puppet or an anarchist.
This gives Putin a number of new problems. He has already met his challenges knowing that he could take the population with him by blaming others: the United States, the EU, the Islamist terrorists or the decadence of awakened neoliberalism.
Along the way, global narratives about Russia have shifted from seeing it in gradual decline to seeing it as newly emboldened and revitalized. A co-opted Trump administration has silenced official U.S. criticism of Putin’s regime, demoted NATO, and bought Putin four solid years to fragment the West. He was able to use conventional levers such as gas dependencies against the European Union, and he exploited his internal divisions over Brexit, his economic malaise and the drift of the far right. The tribalization of American politics until an emerging civil war was amplified by Russian information operations. Putin doubled down on his relations with China, receiving warm words of friendship from Xi Jinping, but at the long-term detriment of reliance on Chinese investment, as well as the PRC’s growing influence on the flank from Russia to Central Asia.
But this time, Putin’s enemies are inside Russia’s gates and not just against them. The biggest test to date of Putin’s monolithic authority is trite: the disconnect between rhetoric and reality. Navalny YouTube expose of an enormous palace on the Black Sea, which he claimed to have been built for Putin by corrupt oligarchs, has now been seen by tens of millions of Russians. True or not, he seems to have convinced much of the population that the Russian rot starts at the top.
Under Putin’s watch, Russia has also seriously botched its response to Covid-19. It’s very publicized Sputnik V the vaccine was slow to deploy. In December, Russia revealed that it had underestimated deaths from the pandemic of two-thirds, placing it behind Brazil and the United States among the countries with the worst death toll overall. And as the pandemic drags on, the world energy prices for oil and gas remain below what the Kremlin needs to provide essential services, fuel its massive infrastructure projects in the Far East and the Arctic, and continue to modernize the Russian military. Longer term, as the renewable energy boom continues, an undiversified Russian economy faces the prospect of becoming a seller of last resort, providing low-profit energy to customers who cannot afford otherwise. thing.
Far from being a revitalized nation, Putin’s Russia is therefore beginning to resemble the later phases of the Brezhnev era under the Soviet Union. At some point, artificial controls, sovereign spending and selective reporting will reveal an insurmountable gap between the official line of steady growth and the reality of daily life.
How will Putin react? A relaxation of internal controls is unlikely, not only because the reforms are a dangerous time for bad regimes, but because Putin and his team saw what happened to Mikhail Gorbachev. Internationally, and in return for a more low-profile Western stance on his domestic repressive tactics, Putin may well offer the EU and the new Biden administration quick wins in foreign policy on a range of issues, from gas to arms control.
As tempting as it is, such a move would be dangerous and should be resisted. In essence, he asks the West to separate the internal conduct of Russia from its external behavior. As well as throwing Navalny under a bus, it also contradicts the core narrative liberal democracies have been pushing for more than two decades. After opting for a rules-based order where state sovereignty is no longer a cloak behind which rulers hide, another “reset” with Russia would be simply hypocritical and potentially lengthen the lifespan of one. increasingly sclerotic diet.