by Gordon M. Hahn
Recently signals issued forth indicating that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ‘holds the post position’ in the cryptic race to be President Vladimir Putin’s designated successor or, given the Medvedev outcome, at lease next temporary successor. This working paper/article looks at those signals and how the scheme of Shoigu’s ideologist fits in with Russia’s new ideology and the Russian cultural value of ‘wholeness’ or tselostnost’.
Signals for Shoigu’s Succession
For the second vacation in a row, Putin chose to be accompanied by Shoigu (www.pnp.ru/politics/opublikovany-fotografii-s-otdykha-putina-v-sibiri.html). Putin’s fellow traveler or co-vacationer can accrue great authority among the elite and that can put said traveler in a position to succeed Putin if Putin’s decides to maintain his status through this and other types of signaling. Vacations with Medvedev and the publicity and authority they lent him appear to be a thing of the past. Rather than Medvedev accruing authority should the former ‘tandem’ vacation or otherwise socialize together, it is more likely Putin’s authority would suffer within the elite, which is dominated by traditionalists closer to Putin than moderate ‘system liberals.’ It is a rare occasion now when Putin appears publicly with Medvedev even in an official work context. This is a function of Medvedev’s now great unpopularity. Medvedev’s unpopularity is rooted in his relative liberalism, demonstrated during his term as president in 2008-2012, which puts him out of favor among traditionalist. On the other side, it is rooted among liberals by the weakness Medvedev demonstrated in his failure to challenge Putin and run for a second term in 2012, leading to the creeping authoritarianization under Putin ever since.
Shoigu has replaced Medvedev as the potential ‘crown prince’ of Kremlin politics and appears to have an edge of other contenders such as Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin (https://gordonhahn.com/2018/11/26/sobyanin-putins-successor/). In the most general terms, should Putin wish to put out a more liberal, technocratic, economically-focused image and agenda for post-Putin Russia, Sobyanin would be a more likely choice than Shoigu. However, this is an era of growing international tensions, external threats in Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere and from NATO. It is an era that feeds Russia’s security vigilance norm and has led to the turn to entrenching traditionalism and a hardening authoritarianism. In such a world and from such a mindset, Shoigu is a more likely successor than Sobyanin.
Thus, the signaling supporting Shoigu was a notch stronger during this September’s Putin-Shoigu camping trip in Siberia, elevated by a long programmatic article titled “Time of Big Decisions” published by Shoigu’s advisor Andrei Ilnitskii published in a Russian state newspaper, the Duma’s Parlamentskaya gazeta. The article argues that Russia’s time for developmental “inertia” is over and now begins a moment of “big decisions” in order to overcome “the lack of focus on goals and the lack of will of the authorities” (www.pnp.ru/politics/vremya-bolshikh-resheniy.html). Such formulations would be a risky for Shoigu if he did not have Putin’s support for this agenda or at least autonomous agenda-setting, since it easily can be read to imply that Putin’s leadership has lost vitality. On the other hand, Putin, if he is preparing to leave the presidency, might not object to a less robust interpretation along these lines; simply put – that it is time for a change.
Shoigu’s ‘Russian Idea’ and the New Russian Ideology
The article is in line with the Russia’s new ideological orientation, which I outlined previously. It contains several of the ideological elements I detailed in that article: national solidarity, universal traditionalism, Russian Orthodoxy Christianity, and neo-Eurasianism (https://gordonhahn.com/2021/08/12/the-new-russian-ideology/). Ilnitskii’s article reflects both the ‘civilizational-ness’ (if not explicit Russian-Eurasian civilizational conceptualized as encompassing civilizations and territories lying outside Russia’s territorial boundaries as in typical neo-Eurasianism) and the Orthodox component of the new ideology and does so in messianic terms: “(The Russian idea) is in our civilizational Orthodox mission, in (our) just conciliarity (sobornost’), which combines all peoples and religions.” Neo-Eurasianism is implied and probably assumed by the author when he proposes the massive “Russia’s Big Project” which envisages building new state-of-the art cities medium-sized ciities and infrastructures across Russian Siberia and the Far East (see below). In traditionalist fashion the abandonment of large urban megapolises is justified in part on the claim that this pattern of development was “imposed by the West” on Russia. Universal traditionalism – the traditional values of family values and religious faith embodied in the traditional civilizations of Eurasia’s various civilizations in contrast to Western secularism, hedonism, and LGBT sexuality – is little reflected in the article. Ilnitskii mentions the need for “reliance on the traditional values, history, and culture of Russia.”
National solidarity is defined as the norm of preserving or aspiring to national political, ontological (cultural and identity), and territorial unity. Thus, in proposing “Russia’s Big Project” (see below) Ilnitskii notes how crucial such national solidarity is for Russia, noting “the trust and solidarity in society that is critically significant for Russia.” The solidarity norm is reflected in the project’s “Big Ideology,” which places near the top of its list of principles “the idea of a united economic plan of the country as the key organizing document for the rebirth and recreation of the national economy. Ilnitskii and Shoigu seek to weave the country’s regions and population together through more even development and population distribution, deeper economic integration, and more robust transport and communications infrastructure and thereby strengthen national political solidarity by buttressing weak links of depopulation and underdevelopment and removing the tension between highly developed Moscow, St. Petersburg, and oil and gas-laden Tyumen with the poorer provinces in places like Siberia.
Ilnitskii’s article follows up on Shoigu’s comments on August 5th to a conference in the academic city of Novosibirsk in western Siberia, where the Defense Minister proposed building three to five scientific and industrial cities in Siberia that would have from 300,000 to 1 million in population each. This would put them in the upper middle tier among Russian cities, which has 15 cities with population of more than one million. Only three such cities (Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk, and Krasnoyarsk) are located in the Urals, Siberian and Far East regions – all lumped under the term ‘Siberia’ by Ilnitskii. Shoigu proposed connecting these new cities and ‘Siberia’ by building a highway and transport corridor he calls the “Cedar Tract.” Ilnitskii describes the Cedar Tract in the context of the need for a safe transport corridor, noting the “current situation in Afghanistan.” Thus, the idea may also serve as a component or “safe” competitor to China’s One Belt One Road project for connecting Europe to the Asia-Pacific regions. For Russia, the Big Project – Cedar Tract is inextricably linked to Russia’s national security, not suprising Russia’s revived national security culture and norm, as I have noted elsewhere. It “should become a spatial-terriorial redevelopment of the country, because the balanced distribution of points of growth of the economy and population are a key element of Russia’s national security.” It is this no coincident that it is Russia’s Defense Minister making this poroposal. The new cities “of a new type,” “of the most advanced architecture” should be built in “comfortable natural climatic zones, and the logic of their placement and development…will be linked to natural resources.” They must be constructed “with developed infrastructure and science, education and health care, comfortable cities, attractive and interesting for life – youth forst of all,” and they should become magnets for attracting the Russian diaspora back home – “gatherings of the Russian world!” In short ‘Russia’s Big Project’ is intended to buttress Russian national solidarity in all its forms.
Some amendments perhaps can be made to my recent interpretation of the new Russian ideology in light of this and other authoritative statements by Russian elites. The first is statism. Ilnitskii constantly refers to the state’s role in the new Russia to be fashioned with the Big Project’s reformation of the country’s economy and territorial-spatial design. It is the state that will design the ‘united economic plan’ that will regenerate the country. According to Ilnitskii, there will be “a synthesis of the best aspects of state planning and market self-organization.” Moreover, the country’s state and economy should switch to a clearly “mobilizational” model of economic development.
Ilnitskii/Shoigu’s Russian idea also echoes themes in a recent article by influential Russian international relations expert Sergei Karaganov, in which he attempted to outline the framework of a new Russian ideology. In particular was the idea of Russia as a militarily victorious country. Karaganov noted: “The first and most important thing that we must realize: we are a victorious people who defeated all great conquerors: the Genghisids, and the Swedish Karl, who conquered half of Europe, and Napoleon, and Hitler. There is no other such nation in the world! Second: we are a nation of not just traditional values…. Third: we are a liberating people. We liberated Europe from Napoleon, from Hitler, and now we are liberating the world from Western hegemony. And we should be proud of that. We are also a people of outstanding cultural openness who are absolutely foreign to racism. These are the things that should underlie our offensive ideology”(“Satanizatsiya vopreki. Sergei Karaganov o novoi kholodnoi voine i russkoi idee,” Argumenty i fakty, 21 July 2021, (https://aif.ru/politics/world/satanizacii_vopreki_sergey_karaganov_o_novoy_holodnoy_voyne_i_russkoy_idee?fbclid=IwAR0Aq1eyNxYym7uPX-4HXkPZFYiSnrQ062r9wV92VKy1c09xm11wZZiSfGY). Ilnitskii writes similarly: “(The Russian idea) is in our peace-loving. Russia is a country-peacemaker. A country, surviving tens of wars, losing millons, but rising again from the ashes and being victorious, values peace as no one and as nowhere (www.pnp.ru/politics/vremya-bolshikh-resheniy.html). Thus, this theme of the peaceloving, victorious and liberating warrior state is also becoming an element in the new ideology.
In sum, the official Russian ideology that is emerging should be amended from that which I outlined earlier. In addition to Solidarism, Universal Traditionalism, Russian Orthodox Christianity, and neo-Eurasianism there should be added both Statism and the idea of Russia as peacemaker-liberator, perhaps to be called Beneficent Great Powerism (Dobryi Derzhavizm).
Part 2 is forthcoming
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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 Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021), 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.