May 24, 2018

Totalitarianism and Confrontation. What to Expect from Russia

Completion of the formation of a new Russian leadership following the results of the presidential elections in March 2018 and the re-appointment of the Russian government in May 2018 raise a quite right question about the country's future and its foreign and domestic policy. This is very important for Ukraine, against which Russia's armed aggression continues in the form of a “hybrid” war and military confrontation in the Donbas.

Given the essence of Putin's regime, he never, under any circumstances, will give up the strategic goals of restoring Russia as a great world power with its sphere of influence, especially in the post-Soviet and Eurasian territories. At the same time, more specific forms of achievement of such goals will be determined by the peculiarities of the development of the situation in the country and by the course of events around it. To date, all these processes are complex, and in a number of cases, unpredictable.

For example, the results of the presidential election in Russia have shown that Russia's society maintains a rather high level of support for Putin. At the same time, the number of citizens, who are not happy with the state of affairs in the country and demand immediate changes, is increasing. This is confirmed by both, the results of sociological surveys and by protests in the country under economic and political slogans. At this, contrary to the Kremlin's assertion that Russia is able to cope with negative effects of Western sanctions, it has never been able to come out of the crisis. According to the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, the majority (76 %) of Russian entrepreneurs estimate the current state of the country's economy as catastrophic.

In general, external factors of influence also remain negative for Russia. Positions of the USA, and under its influence, some countries of the EU, testify to the high probability of further intensifying pressure on Russia in the form of building up sanctions over different causes and issues (Ukraine, Syria, violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the use of chemical weapons, harassment of human rights, etc.). The West's policy towards Russia is fundamental and systemic in nature and at the moment is aimed at critical weakening of the current regime of the Russian Federation and the split between Putin and his entourage from among the politico-oligarchic circles.

The British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report titled “Moscow's Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK”
The British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report titled “Moscow's Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK”

A manifestation of such a policy was the introduction by the United States in early April 2018 of a series of new personal sanctions against Russian oligarchs (according to the “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, adopted in August 2017). For its part, the UK government is strengthening control over the activities of Russian businesses in the British financial market. May 21, 2018, the British Parliament's (House of Commons) Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report titled “Moscow's Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK”, which expresses concern over the increased threat to the security of the United Kingdom as a result of the corruption of Russian business in the country (first of all “money laundering”). As part of the struggle against such threats, the British government has already demanded from the Russian businessman R. Abramovich to provide information on the origin of his capital placed in British banks.

At the same time, the contradictions between the USA and the EU are intensifying, which undermines the unity of the Western world, including its policy on the Russian direction. Recently, US President D. Trump's decisions to increase customs duties on imports of steel and aluminum (European production included), as well as to unilaterally break the “nuclear deal” with Iran (provided for the lifting of international sanctions on IRI in the exchange for Tehran's abandoning the military component of its nuclear program and letting IAEA observers to the nuclear facilities of the country). Besides, Russia's “Nord Stream 2” project, supported by the political and business circles of the Federal Republic of Germany and some other European countries, is a separate issue in relations between the United States and Europe, but it raises fundamental objections from Washington (both political and purely economic ones, in particular through American energy companies' plans to strengthen their presence in the European gas market).

 

The Kremlin's only ability to control the situation in Russia remains strengthening of the vertical of state power and law enforcement agencies
The Kremlin's only ability to control the situation in Russia remains strengthening of the vertical of state power and law enforcement agencies

Given these circumstances, the Kremlin's only ability to control the situation in Russia remains further strengthening of the vertical of state power, toughening the government's control of the national economy (actual establishment of the state monopoly system), as well as minimization of Western pressure on the Russian ruling elite through political and business circles and society of the country. According to the Russian experts' forecasts (in particular, Higher School of Economics in Russia, Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy), the main directions of such a policy will include:

  • concentration of the petroleum industry of the country under the auspices of Rosneft (is actually a state-owned company); completion of the process of establishing a state monopoly in the banking sector; intensification of measures to return to state ownership the air transport market and other key sectors and spheres of Russian economy and finance;
  • transition to mobilization methods of financial and economic processes management in Russia, first of all through: tough fiscal policies (including maximum limitation of social expenditures); pension reform (raising the retirement age); increasing taxes and other financial charges from the population and business; forcing Russian businessmen to return their capital from abroad and “sponsor” the state's needs;
  • introduction of amendments to the Constitution of the country, including: strengthening presidential power; introduction of state ideology; a drastic reduction in the number of Federal subjects of Russia and the actual transition to governor-generalship; toughening of laws on parliamentary and presidential elections; limiting the role of the Federal Assembly and reducing its number;
  • strengthening of law enforcement agencies and special services of the RF and expanding their powers for combating all manifestations of opposition activities, suppressing protest actions and preventing social unrest. Based on these priorities, the amount of financing for measures to strengthen internal security will be increased, including by reducing expenditures on the country's defence from external enemies (due to a lack of funds in 2017, Russia's defense spending was reduced by 20 %).
The toughening the internal regime in Russia will be explained by “the West's aggressive policy”
The toughening the internal regime in Russia will be explained by “the West's aggressive policy”

At this, the toughening the internal regime of the country and worsening of the problems in the economy will continue to be explained by “the West's aggressive policy towards the Russian Federation”, which calls for the mobilization of all its resources. At the same time, to calm the public opinion, the government will demonstrate the care about business and solving social problems of the Russian population. In particular, V. Putin's “May Decrees”, signed by him after the inauguration in May 2018, became an example of this.

It was for the sake of fulfillment of these tasks that a new government of Russia was formed, which remains completely dependent on V. Putin and his administration, and performs purely technical functions for the implementation of their decisions or instructions, and in fact, to ensure the interests of oligarchic clans in the Russian ruling elite. In view of this, the new (the slightly updated old) government does not include a single person able to defend his/her own opinion, which does not coincide with the views of the Kremlin.

 

Russia's foreign policy will preserve the character of active and aggressive expansion

Russia's foreign policy, which will preserve the character of active and aggressive expansion in the post-Soviet and Eurasian territories, as well as a tough confrontation with the West, will remain the exclusive prerogative of V. Putin and his administration. In this regard, the Kremlin's priorities will remain as follows:

  • strengthening Russia's positions in the territories of the former USSR in the form of continuing efforts to build the Eurasian Economic Union and to strengthen the CSTO, as well as to establish control over Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. As part of such intentions on the Ukrainian direction, Moscow will try to use the presidential and parliamentary elections in our country to bring to power politicians loyal to the Kremlin. At the same time, it will exacerbate pressure on Ukraine, forcing it to accept Russia's scenario for resolving the conflict in the Donbas — the formal return of the occupied territories to Ukraine while preserving Russia's control over them;
  • deepening relations with the PRC as a counterbalance to the West's pressure, and strengthening and expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is positioned by Russia as an alternative to the West. In addition, Moscow will continue to strive to actively develop its cooperation with other Third World countries, first of all with India and Pakistan;
  • influencing the USA and Europe's positions and policy by demonstrating military force and nuclear blackmail. For example, during a meeting with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and enterprises of the defense industry of Russia on May 15, 2018 in Sochi, V. Putin reaffirmed the priority of the Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF) as the main means for deterring Russia's enemies. In view of this, he set the task of further strengthening the SNF and identified it as one of the main priorities in the development of the military sphere of the country.

At the same time, Moscow will keep trying to undermine the unity of the West and change its attitude to Russia and Ukraine, including by “playing” on disagreements between the United States and Europe. At this, taking into account the negative consequences of Western sanctions for the Russian economy, the Kremlin may compromise with the West, but solely for the sake of its own interests.

In particular, it is under this angle that Russian and European experts see V. Putin's meeting with the Federal Chancellor of Germany A. Merkel on May 18, 2018 in Sochi. In the opinion of experts, the purpose of the meeting was to find certain points of contact of the parties in the “triangle” of aggravation of mutual problems between Russia, the USA and Europe.

 

Implementation of the “Chinese” variant of preserving the power will guarantee Putin's lifetime presidency
Implementation of the “Chinese” variant of preserving the power will guarantee Putin's lifetime presidency

Against this background, a separate direction of the efforts of the Russian ruling elite will remain seeking opportunities to preserve its power after the completion of V. Putin's second (but in fact, the fourth) presidential term.

In case of success of the Kremlin's aforementioned approaches in its domestic and foreign policies, V. Putin' s regime will be able to follow the scenario of other countries similar to Russia. Under such a scenario, the ruling party “United Russia” or another public association will put forward the initiative to cancel the provisions of the country's Constitution concerning the terms of office of the President of the RF. Of course, such an initiative will be passed by the Russian Parliament, which will guarantee Putin's lifetime presidency. In March 2018 such a variant was realized in the People's Republic of China. At the initiative of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the National People's Congress (Parliament) cancelled the constitutional provision according to which the head of the PRC may hold office for only two five-year terms.

V. Putin's remaining in power will mean the conservation of problems in Russia and its further lagging behind the leading world powers
V. Putin's remaining in power will mean the conservation of problems in Russia and its further lagging behind the leading world powers

In turn, in case of a further complication of the situation in and around Russia, V. Putin and his entourage will have to seek alternative ways to stay in power. In particular, one of such ways can be to change the constitutional order in Russia from the presidential to a parliamentary republic with the transfer of real power functions from the President to the Head of Government or the Speaker of the Parliament. One of these positions will embrace Putin (in the form of election or appointment to it), which will also guarantee him a lifetime staying in power. At this, responsibility for all problems in the country will be laid on D. Medvedev's government, while he himself will resign. Thus, on the one hand, V. Putin's high rating will continue and there will be a vacant place for him, and on the other — protest moods will temporarily decline in the Russian society.

 

One way or another, but V. Putin's remaining in power without real changes in his policy will mean the conservation of problems in Russia and its further lagging behind the leading world powers, as well as the “stagnation” in the country, resembling the situation that arose in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century and in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. According to such experience, the result can be only a new revolution in Russia and the latter's disintegration.

 

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