by Gordon M. Hahn
Sooner or later, out of biological necessity alone, Russia will no longer be ruled by President Vladimir Putin. Given the highly personalist nature of his ‘sistema,’ Putin’s departure from the political stage one way or another is very likely, almost certain to prompt a change in the form of rule. The shift could be towards a less authoritarian, even substantially ‘democratic’ (i.e., republican) direction, away from Putin’s soft authoritarian and personalist form of rule. This change could occur in a few months or some two decades down the road. A vulnerable point will be the 2021 Duma and 2024 presidential election period, which is rapidly coming upon us with now multiple (pandemic, fiscal, and economic) crises in tow. Whatever the time frame, it would be good if those concerned about Russia’s fate and supportive of a smooth transformation of the Putin regime to something more democratic and economically effective begin to discuss how to help facilitate a peaceful, stable, and republican regime transformation.
The starting point for achieving that goal must be a clear-eyed and precise understanding of the precise nature of the political regime Putin has constructed – as opposed to the cartoonish and largely domestically-driven Washington fantasy tales about ‘Putin’s Russia’ regarding it. Only then can we begin to get a more exact picture of the particular challenges that regime’s republican transformation is likely to face if and when Putin’s ‘sistema’ begins to wither away.
Putin’s Soft Authoritarian System
Putin’s regime is not totalitarian, and as far as most authoritarian regimes go it is not highly authoritarian. It is a relatively soft authoritarian regime, where the opposition is allowed to demonstrate with restrictions and under the constant threat – not a constant reality as Western, especially U.S. media, government, and even much of academia (if one includes the think tank world) would have one believe – of crackdowns, detentions, and imprisonments. The state has a monopoly on television broadcasting outside the internet. But there is some independent radio and print media, though these have to watch their backs and have seen their number shrink by virtue of stealth takeovers by the state through allied oligarchs. The internet is not censured either, but writing, liking, or re-sending a post can incur a fine and on rare occasions garner one a prison sentence. Also, the state is quite effective at flooding the web with its own articulations, thus forging foe itself a heavy presence.
The Russian state has a bare majority hold on the economy, but this means there is also a substantial private sector. The state’s large role, especially at the ‘commanding heights’ or large resource export and industrial sectors, is a massive patronage trough for corrupt and even criminal patrimonial clans arranged in a pyramidal hierarchy at the top of which stands Putin, balancing and occasionally disciplining clans. Murders of Putin’s political opponents are not ordered but are tolerated as a necessary evil for maintaining the stability of his ‘sistema.’ Nevertheless, the responsibility for such crimes that are left unsolved lies on his desk.
Communally, Russia’s various indigenous ethnic and religious groups have significant freedom to develop their cultures and confessions, but the former have been constricted by greater centralization within Russia’s semi-federative state and more restrictive laws touching on minority languages, though Russia’s laws in this regard are less draconian than those of almost all other post-Soviet states, including NATO member Latvia and NATO aspirant Ukraine. Russia’s ‘indigenous’ religious confessions enjoy considerable freedom but are arranged under the ‘first among equals’ principle, with the Russian Orthodox Church privileged by the state.
The development of civil society is plagued by high levels of interpersonal distrust, political cynicism, a lack of resources, and considerable legal and illegal siloviki harassment. Russian political culture is rather amorphous today, outside the neo-traditionalist culture the Putin administration has sought to install (in response to NATO expansion, the resulting decline in Russo-Western relations, and the perceived need to revert to Russia’s pre-Bolshevik, default position of personalist authoritarianism, cultural and social conservatism, and economic dirigisme`) and a small faction of liberal democratic-republicans consisting largely of the intelligentsia that is Western-oriented.
All of the above means that at present the forces that might pull together a pro-democracy movement are all too dispersed, resource-poor, and weak to be able to challenge the regime by itself. Any united democratic opposition will need to make allies with moderate socialists and nationalists if it is to have any hope of posing significant enough of a challenge to the regime’s hold on power so that it might force Putin or his representatives into negotiations. Here arises the bind that can confound any peaceful change and risks a dangerous violent revolution from below or a debilitating peaceful one. Once the opposition becomes powerful enough, the more ambitious radicals among them, being less committed to democratic change, might reject talks and seek a revolutionary, even violent seizure of power. Revolutionary situations are largely unpredictable but usually less democratic in their outcomes; violent ones even more so.
Problems of Transformation
Some types of regime transformation offer better prospects than thers for peaceful change and a democratic outcome. A ranking of the main regime transformational types in order of their likelihood of producing such positive change – all other factors being equal – is as such: (1) ‘pacted’ (negotiated) transitions, (2) transitions imposed by the rulers, (3) peaceful revolutions from below (led by societal groups), (4) peaceful revolutions from above (led by state groups/institutions), and (5) violent revolutions regardless of vector. If the goal is a democratic outcome, then a pacted – that is, a negotiated – transition is the best means for achieving it.
In order to facilitate regime-opposition negotiations in a regime transformation one key requirement is the existence of a powerful but non-violent opposition that poses a sufficient threat to the survival of the old, splintering authoritarian order that regime ruling groups or key leaders – typically the moderates or so-called ‘softliners among them – are willing to negotiate. Such willingness is more likely, if the opposition demonstrates its own willingness to be flexible and to compromise with key ruling groups, at least with regard to the fate of members of the latter after the transformation. Opposition representatives can offer the possibility of an amnesty for those who have committed crimes under the old regime. Depending on how the balance of power and threat between regime and opposition and how talks develop, the opposition might offer a “pact of forgetting” as post-Franco Spain and post-apartheid South Africa instituted in order to encourage the authorities to agree to eventually step down in an orderly fashion. This will reduce hardliners’ motivation to attempt a coup that would overturn the pacting process. In return, the old regime’s representatives could be required to allow some form of lustration among the siloviki, where most of the hardliners reside.
In terms of dealing with the regime’s soft-liners, the opposition can offer in return for democratization and radical reform of the siloviki that any ban on future government service for members of the old regime would be limited to the siloviki and any officials in civilian departments who participated in especially grave crimes. This also will offer added incentive for ‘regime liberals’ to accede to regime change and even defect from the state to the opposition movement, allowing the opposition to co-opt regime soft-liners and various resources they may be able to tap into, as occurred during the Soviet demise in 1990-1991. The regime liberals will be the key group that the opposition will need to attract in order to facilitate the kind of substantial regime split that will sufficiently weaken the regime and force centrists and even some hardliners to give up the authoritarian game.
A major problem facing a peaceful regime transformation is the division within, and weakness of the opposition’s pro-democracy groups. Republicanism in Russia has never been a significantly popular movement, except during the late perestroika and early post-perestroika periods, approximately 1989-1993. As a result of a series of foreign and domestic developments (economic depression, insufficient Western economic assistance to Russia after the Soviet collapse, NATO expansion, the October 1993 myatezh and Yeltsin’s violent suppression of it) the significantly liberal, though somewhat apolitical at times Russian renaissance and silver age died easily overshadowed by darker forces demanding change and political power. At present, liberal democrats would be hard-pressed to gain 15 percent of the vote in a completely free and fair election. Democratic socialists and moderate nationalists and statists could conceivably be hammered together in a united opposition front capable of garnering a plurality of support but not a majority any time soon. Although the center of gravity of any opposition movement that can push the government to extrication negotiations by necessity will have to be centered in Moscow and St. Petersburg (together comprising 13 percent of the population and a larger percentage of Russia’s pro-republican cohort), there are provincial hot points that could bolster a united front. For example, in the far north the so-called ‘Shies’ ecological movement, which emerged truly from the grassroots in reaction to attempts to send garbage from Moscow and other cities to a massive new waste center in Arkhangel’sk has unified into a network of opposition and ecological groups spread across three regions (Arkhangel’sk, Komi, Nenets Okrug) and is prompting defections from the Kremlin’s United Russia party (www.ng.ru/politics/2020-05-28/1_7873_north.html). Similarly, there are moderate ethnonational pro-federalist, potentially republican elements among Russia’s Tatars and other nationalities.
Any regime transformation will be difficult to keep on smooth rails, as radical nationalists, communists, criminal elements, and the various and sundry siloviki can create much trouble. Any violence is likely to escalate, and in circumstances of considerable political violence democrats will be the most poorly positioned to survive. The winners in any scenario of significant or escalating violence will be regime hardliners or opposition radicals, who have little to no commitment to democracy. Regime hardliners or Putin himself may decide to throw soft authoritarianism’s caution to the wind and go full bore authoritarian-totalitarian, beginning by brutally crushing opposition demonstrations and then proceeding to mass arrests. Opposition radicals such as communists and ultra-nationalists not only lack democratic credentials but are as prone to the use of violence for achieving their political ends as regime hardliners are. The most likely result could be an anarchic civil war that remnants from the old Putin regime based in the siloviki are most likely to win and cap off with the installation of a brutal authoritarian order.
Building a Regime Transformation Coalition
Thus, the central dilemma lies in the fact that, given the democratic opposition’s weakness, only a broad, politically moderate and peaceful opposition front can both help maintain stability on the streets and pose a significant enough challenge to force the government to give up power without a resort to force. On the other hand, the broader is the coalition, the greater becomes the possibility that radicals will infiltrate and hijack the movement. This is precisely what occurred in Ukraine in 2013-2014, when ultra-nationalists and neofascists infiltrated the Maidan movement as a result of liberals’ alliance with the radical nationalist Svoboda Party. This can lead to either a mixed and therefore debilitated regime encompassing democratic elements with an authoritarian element, like Maidan Ukraine today, prone to end in authoritarian rule or another regime breakdown. In Russia, an opposition movement and any new regime it might produce could be compromised in the same way by communists and/or ultra-nationalists. The communists’ cultural and historical toolbox is filled with means to install totalitarian rule, and ultra-nationalists – though small in number – are more than capable of adopting the communists’ worst methods and reviving fascist practices to boot. It will be up to constructive, moderate opposition forces, most of all liberal democrats, to preempt ‘politics by other means.’
Complicating matters is that Russia is a country split in three – vlast’ (the authorities or the state), the narod (the people), and smaller intelligentsia – with little to no middle-class ballast worth speaking of, especially outside of a few major cities. The Russian intelligentsia, which has traditionally played the role of a third force between the authorities and the people, has lost much of its authority and is divided within itself by the various political tendencies, including radical communism, nationalism, and neo-Eurasianism. Although today’s Russian intelligentsia persists, especially on its liberal wing, in its hatred for the authorities and condescension towards the ‘backward’ narod, it no longer feels the guilt the 19th and 20th century intelligentsia felt towards the Russian masses. The intelligentsia for now at least has lost its capacity to produce a moral voice on the scale of a Tolstoy (putting aside the quality of some of his ideas and personality), Solzhenitsyn, or Sakharov. This makes it an unlikely driver for consolidating the largely urban democratic opposition and the largely state-dependent and traditionalist countryside. The lack of a large or influential natural constituency makes expert coalition-building crucial for any republican-led opposition front to emerge and be capable of attracting the more amorphous Russian masses.
In terms of regime elements, any political opening to be substantial enough for the relatively weak democratic movement to take advantage of and build upon will require accepting into its fold elements that defect from the current regime. This is most likely to include the so-called regime liberals. In the past post-Soviet crises – not to mention the mass defections from the regime and the ruling CPSU during the late perestroika era – some regime liberals and other moderates in and around the regime have temporarily defected or at least repositioned themselves between the regime and opposition or closer to the opposition. Examples include recent Accounting Chamber Chairman and former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and the chairman Sergei Mironov and several leading (now former) members of the parliamentary party of the so-called ‘systemic opposition’ ‘Just Russia’ (Spravedlivaya Rossiya) Party. Under a major regime split, Kudrin, Mironov, among many other regime liberals will defect from Putin’s ruling coalition to the democratic opposition.
In any future crisis the Russian Orthodox Church could perform a mediating role more successful than that undertaken in October 1993. It already has close ties to more traditionalist and even outright reactionary elements in both society and – as a function of its state-sponsored privileged position among Russia’s ‘native religions’ – the state. Liberal and other moderate opposition forces would do well to seek a dialogue with and allies within the ROC establishment in the meantime.
In sum, the democratic opposition can only take advantage of any destabilization of the present system, prevail in any post-Putin struggle for power, and hope to be able to steer a reformed state towards a free polity and economy, if it builds a moderate pro-republican opposition movement.
Constructing a Democratic Political Culture
In addition to building a moderate coalition, the democratic opposition must prepare for the coming change and possible political opening by developing not just a democratic-republican political culture but also a liberal (non-political) social culture. One of the reasons for the failure of republican democracy to take hold in post-Soviet Russia is the deficit of democratic values within the democratic camp itself. In the late perestroika era and early post-Soviet period democratic parties were led by former Party-state apparatchiks, who had at best a limited understanding of, and commitment to republican practice. The pro-democracy parties were personalist, led and identified by a single leader. The leaders themselves were sufficiently intolerant of pluralism within ‘their domains.’ Russian democratic parties today remain the same. Their inability to tolerate political pluralism within the broader pro-democracy wing of the political spectrum, and their leaders’ selfish concern for their own power has prevented effective democratic coalition building. This is beginning to improve, perhaps, but is limited to municipal council and regional election coalitions. It needs to become a national-level practice that will serve as an example for society-at-large. Such practice will also facilitate habits that will allow the democratic opposition to find compromises with moderate socialists and nationalists in building a broader regime transformation coalition.
In terms of democratic transformative processes, a cultural norm of peace can help to undermine the regime’s and much of society’s security culture of vigilance against foreign and domestic foes, which has been created by a many centuries-long history of Western influence, meddling, intervention and invasion into Russia. Russian traditionalist, authoritarian regimes exhibit a sometimes real, sometimes, misperceived, sometimes instrumentally feigned fear of dissenters as potential or kinetic agents of destabilization. In order to undermine both that fear and its instrumentality as an effective tool for quashing dissent, atomizing society, and drawing supporters to authoritarianism’s side, the opposition must stand explicitly on a position of peaceful change and a willingness to find compromise with all forces willing to negotiate or cooperate with it. This will facilitate defection of liberals from the regime, both of which will make the regime more likely to agree negotiations, undercutting those who will claim that only force can remove Putin and those who enjoy his protection from power. The white ribbon or birch movement of 2011-2012 demonstrates that Putin is willing to allow or himself engage in negotiations with the democratic opposition when it can muster substantial public support. The fact that Putin rolled back many of the reforms instituted by then President Dmitrii Medvedev both before and during the 2011-2012 does not mitigate this fact. The only possible mitigation of it and its implications is if Medvedev undertook these reforms against Putin’s will. In lieu of evidence to that effect, we must conclude that a powerful opposition movement could force Putin once again to make compromises up to and including his own departure from power in favor of a new republicanization process. However, if he or his associates smell danger to their physical survival or well-being, they will be less likely to be willing to engage in talks and more likely to deploy force.
One of the most inspiring elements of the white ribbon movement was its joyful, peaceful tenor. The democratic opposition would do well to replicate this practice. In order to weed out potentially violent, less recalcitrant and reasonable elements within its own ranks and more importantly encourage Putin and those who ally with him to support participation in explicit or implicit pact-making, a constructive moderate opposition movement must explicitly reject the use or at least the first-use of coercion and violence in the pursuit of political goals. This could be set out in an intra-opposition or even regime-opposition agreement, perhaps in two stages, since the Putin government is unlikely to renounce the use of force unless sorely pressed. Moreover, few in the Russian opposition will trust that Putin and/or his siloviki would actually stand by such an agreement and rightly so. The opposition’s unilateral ‘treaty’ or peace contract would nevertheless send an important signal that could facilitate Putin’s agreement to engage in talks and leave power.
Not to be overstated but worth drawing upon and deepening is the not necessarily dominant but certainly robustly recessive strands in Russian culture supporting pacifism, humility, and forgiveness. Most ancient is Eastern and Russian Orthodoxy’s value of meekness or smirenie. For centuries, one of the most read daily texts in Russian monasteries were those of 7th century Eastern Orthodox monk from Syria Isaac ‘Siriyanina’ Nineviiskii (Isakii Siriyanina). One of his teachings of humility, love, and the “tender heart”: “And what is a merciful heart? … (A) person’s eyes exude tears from a great and strong pity that engulfs the heart. And his heart is made merciful by great patience, and it cannot endure any harm or minor grief being endured by a creature, and therefore he prays hourly with tears for those without the word, for the enemies of truth, and for those who harm him so that they will be preserved and cleansed. He also prays for the nature of the reptiles with great pity excited immeasurably in his heart by likening them to God.” [Kseniya Kas’yanova, O russkom national’nom kharatere (Moscow: Academicheskii proekt, 2003), p. 390]. This was carried deeper into the ancient Russian religious experience by the 14th century Russian monk Sergei Radonezh and the great icon painter Andrei Rublev, memorialized in Andrei Tarkovskii’s great Soviet era film. Another successor of this tradition was the peaceful Russian Old Believer tradition. The Old Belief schismatics did not respond to the heresy they saw in Nikon’s 1666-1667 Church reforms with violence but rather by exit ‘from the world’, ensconcing to the Russian far north, Siberia, and the Don in search of freedom from the new religious order. The only violence Old Believers deployed was inflicted against themselves in tens of thousands of self-immolations in order to escape the oppression of the state, Church, and material world.
One of Russia’s greatest philosopher, Vladimir Solov’ev, evolved into a prominent proponent of universal peace, world unity and brotherhood, and Christian mercy and reunification. He urged Tsar Alexander III to forgive the Socialist Revolutionary assassins of his father, Tsar Alexander II, and spoke out against anti-Semitism. The eternally popular satirical writer Nikolai Gogol taught: “If it happens to you that you become angry at anyone at all, be angry at yourself at the same time for being able to be made angry at another.” Lev Tolstoy, of course, is well-known and admired for his pacifist position on non-violent resistance, to which his magnum opus, War and Peace, was dedicated and which so much influenced Mahatma Ghandi. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is a magnum ode to peace, looking askance at both the war and terror of the revolution and civil war committed by both sides. To this hyper-politicization, he prescribed the value of life and living it over the politics, violence and death offered by the Reds and Whites. In his poem ‘Learn to Forgive’, Pasternak wrote: “Learn to forgive. Pray for the offender, Triumph over evil with the light of kindness.” Even the Soviet regime in its late totalitarian mode, instrumentalized Russians’ pacifist value, perhaps deepened by the horrors inflicted on it by Hitler and Stalin. The post-Stalin Soviet leadership’s various peace campaigns targeting Western publics were indeed driven by political instrumentalism, but they had the unintended effect of reinforcing the peace value in many Soviet citizens that the horrors of the Great Patriotic War revived. Beginning with perestroika, almost all Russians have turned their backs on Bolshevism and the revolutionary and Stalinist terror it engendered, arriving at a Pasternakian moment in Russian political culture, reflected even in Putin’s rejection of Leninism, Stalinism, and revolutionary (and apparently democratic) change. None of the above is meant to say that Russians are universally meek or more innately peaceful than, say, Americans or Macedonians. It is to say that there are Russian cultural traditions, recessive perhaps, that can be drawn upon by the democratic-led opposition movement in order to inculcate peaceful approaches to opposition politics.
There also is a long tradition within Russian Orthodoxy, philosophy, literature, and even Soviet practice that can undergird support for forgiveness, repentance, and amnesty. Thus, both the authoritarian Tsarist and totalitarian Soviet regimes instituted amnesties for criminals and dissidents in conjunction with certain national holidays. Even For example, Stalin issued an amnesty on the anniversaries of 9 May 1945 or ‘Victory Day’, and in 1955 the post-Stalinist authorities renewed the practice, even releasing some who assisted fascist Germany’s Nazi forces on Soviet territory. The Victory Day amnesty remains a tradition, though, according to one opposition figure, Putin has failed to issue one in 2020 https://echo.msk.ru/blog/sergei_mitrohin/2650223-echo/?utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fzen.yandex.com).
A revival of Russian pacifism, humility and forgiveness could provide a normative foundation for a new Russian political culture. As these values appear to be sorely lacking elsewhere globally, including in the U.S., the rise of a neo-Tolstoyan reawakening within a Russian oppositionist revival perhaps would become influential abroad, playing into Russian culture’s messianism, which stands out perhaps only second to America’s democratic messianism and increasingly regretful revolutionism.
The rise of a new Russian opposition culture might initially arise outside the framework of politics. Russian cultural sociologist Aleksei Davydov’s argues that “non-political personal liberalism” is a prerequisite for political and economic liberalism and that Russian literature is amply populated with models of such figures in the heroes of the novels by great Russian writers from the 18th to 20th centuries, including Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolai Golgol’, Ivan Goncharov, Ivan Turgenev, Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, and Mikhail Sholokhov. This “protest personality” usually is a culturally ‘Russian European’ in some form and presents both an internal and worldly non-political protest against Russia’s “archaic, collective(sobornyi)-authoritarian” traditionalist cultural model. [A.P. Davydov, Nepoliticheskii liberalism v Rossii (Moscow: Mysl’, 2012), p. 12]. Similarly, Soviet/Russian sociologist Kseniya Kasyanova noted decades ago that the warmth and freedom of self-expression that exists in Russians’ “primary” or closest social circle can become an incubator for the development of more liberal and less “non-repressive culture” (‘repressive’, in the sense of subordinating one’s self interest to that of the group) in Russia (Kasyanova, O russkom natsional’nom kharaktere, pp. 283-97, 377-9, and 381).
Therefore, a new Russian sociopolitical movement promoting a pacifist, moderate liberalism and political tolerance might be raised by reverting to the early 19th practice of the so-called ‘secret societies’, which were neither very secret nor so large as to qualify as societies. They were more like the early perestroika-era ‘discussion clubs.’ Nevertheless, they could function to begin a grassroots re-examination of Russian cultural values and how they might be made ready to mix and accept less collective, more individualist values without destroying the positive elements in Russian collectivism and the overall culture and political culture. Similar explorations could address Russian transcendentalism, messianism, philosophical absolutism, anti-meshchanstvo, and legal nihilism. But the most fundamental cultural task should be to figure out ways and provide a space to allow for the individual Russian person to emerge as a force, forging a generation of new leaders, something of which the pro-democracy movement in Russia is in short supply. The creation of a culture that allows the individual, the maverick to flourish, that “affirms the idea of the individual personality, its ‘I’, and has “overcome namelessness,” in Vladimir Kantor’s words, is crucial for the making of a democratic culture tolerant of a number of approaches to solving political problems [Vladimir Kantor, Lyubov’ k dvoiniku: Mif I realnost’ russkoi kul’tury (Moscow: NPK, 2013), p. 486].
In sum, in order to achieve democracy, Russians (and all of us) must live up to Dostoevskii’s belief stated in his novel “Notes from Dead House”: “The Russian people are ready to forget all tortures for one gentle word.” To accomplish this, Russian democrats might lead a cultural reawakening movement from below in kitchens across the country. From initially non-political cultural change can come a more organic political transformation.
When Political Transformation?
The time frame for the survival of the present personalist system may be quite short, as the mix of multiple crises caused by COVD-19, the oil price crash, and a global recession create a perfect storm, telling on the system’s main resource: Putin’s popularity. Putin’s approval and trust ratings hit lows in May 2020, though they remain substantial (www.levada.ru/en/2020/06/18/approval-ratings-15/; www.intellinews.com/trust-in-russian-president-vladimir-putin-sinks-to-25-approval-of-his-actions-down-to-63-184373/?source=russia&inf_contact_key=89f6ac07f7f4311953dd0b3852bc54f516358d5485884e2f31e6019a0d26c8b0). The devaluation of the Putin resource can lead to a regime split and raises the likelihood of destabilizing public protests. Small cracking around the edges of the regime can be seen developing. For example, the quasi-puppet KPRF’s leader Gennadi Zyuganov allowed himself to level perhaps his harshest criticism of the system after the arrest of professor and ‘For a New Socialism’ party leader Nikolai Platoshkin in early June, noting “the growing slipping of the authorities into a police state and shut the mouth of any manifestation of discontent” (https://svpressa.ru/politic/article/267328/?fbclid=IwAR0KPGI5Va9yheAYghTtHk-R7nWeDbEVvP3tsWMCHhBNazyN4oabB_iJmXo). At the same time, the KPRF leadership recommended that its members vote against Putin’s proposed constitutional amendments in the referendum (https://dailystorm.ru/news/prezidium-ck-kprf-prizval-golosovat-protiv-popravok-v-konstituciyu?fbclid=IwAR2Ot8t3893HU_SMdXkVplsCgRnee24QzaXKqLtMmEXvjQEOwRxWeWCe-3U). Also, the multiple crises are beginning to unsettle the population, with some 28 percent in a recent poll expressing in May a willingness to participate in street demonstrations, compared to 24 percent in February (www.ng.ru/politics/2020-06-01/3_7875_poll.html and www.ng.ru/news/680407.html?fbclid=IwAR07VQt_8ELzCG0t3A73r9VIUESGHZRTOmTEJmgtu2_IoFSQhl5iVXkGris). Such a level of turnout if it were to be realized in Moscow and St. Petersburg would spell enormous problems for Putin, but this still seems unlikely at least until later this summer. In fact, Putin’s great vulnerability is that his support base is located in villages and small towns and among pensioners and others who live off state budget funds. These are not elements that will be able to protect Putin from the youth, middle-aged, and more ideologically committed in the more oppositional national capitols (Moscow and the ‘second’ or ‘northern’ capitol St. Petersburg) and the larger regions’ capitols.
The situation in Russia is beginning to accumulate uncertainty, and those of us for whom the fate of Russia, its people (russkie and rossiiskie), and international security should do whatever is possible to facilitate whatever degree of social stability and peaceful political change can be achieved in the upcoming transition in order to prevent the destabilization of an arms-laden great power at the center of the Eurasian landmass and to counteract the many inside and outside of Russia who will strive to rock the boat.
Finally, I am very leery of any foreign, no less Western direct involvement in, or lecturing to Russia about how to achieve democracy. Many Russians themselves know far better how to transform Russia now than any Westerner does. Those Russians who want to know more about republicanism and mounting peaceful protests and regime transformation can readily access the relevant information on the Internet. Moreover, Western support for Russian democratic-republicans tends to discredit them in the eyes of the other Russians the latter need to attract to their side in order to enact peaceful regime change. To be clear: there should be no Western meddling in Russian politics, just as there should be no Russian meddling in American politics. The history of the former is far richer than that of the latter. Americans would do far better improving their own failing republican system, decaying political culture being destroyed by both major political parties, an educational system that eschews teaching the enormous positive side of republican government and market economics, an increasingly stagnant and corrupt political system that leaves the same people in power for decades, and a media that is now blatantly lying in order to serve one political party over another. On this background, Russia’s democratic deficit becomes less shocking, and the ability of the American people, no less its putrefied government to benefit Russian, Ukrainian or any other’s democratization lays in shambles. Aside from the issue of regime transformation being of interest to me, I have written this article because I believe a Russia that remains stable during a democratic transformation is in the best interests of the U.S., Russia, and overall global security.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Aspiration, Trepidation, and the West in the Making of Russia’s Security Culture (McFarland, 2021). Previously, he has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.