Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: The Longer Putin is in Office, the Worse for Russia, Butakov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 31 – Tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s New Year’s gift to the Russian people – Vladimir Putin as their ruler – a man who was not the servant of the oligarchs as some had expected but rather a willful leader who has made the last decade a half into his own “era.”


            But it is now clear that whatever Russians believe he has done for their country now, the longer Putin remains in office, Yaroslav Butakov argues in a commentary on today, the more disastrous things will become the consequences for Russia and the Russian people (


            The reasons for that conclusion, the historian says, are to be found in the personality of the man who has become the ruler of Russia.  Putin has shown himself to be increasingly inadequate in providing answers to the questions that his own actions are causing to be raised, and he is sacrificing the interests of the country in the name of maintaining his own power.


            It is quite possible, Butakov says, that Putin is suffering from an emotional problem which means that “the chief goal of his political acts is personal self-assertion.” Such an individual needs “extraordinary circumstances where he can display his qualities as ‘a savior’” and win plaudits for doing so regardless of the consequences.


            “An authoritarian ruler is always put forward by a ruling class,” the historian points out, “but having become such, the ruler begins to ‘build’ a ruling class” that will support him and his projects. Consensus on this point, of course, can ultimately be “destroyed by the actions” of the ruler himself.


            “Disagreement at the top is a necessary factor of any revolution, for a consolidated ruling class always is capable of putting down any dissatisfaction coming only from below,” Butakov says. “Only groups in the elite itself who are dissatisfied [will be] capable of pulling down the regime,” he says.


            “However paradoxical” it may seem, the analyst continues, “the very sharpest intra-elite conflict in Russia after 1993 preceded the ascent of Putin to the Olympus of power.”  That was the fight between Putin and Luzhkov in 1999. It was “a real ‘crisis of the people at the top.’” And it arose over what to do about Chechnya.


            That struggle featured themes that are once again surfacing. Indeed, Butakov argues, “there is nothing new in principle in this connection” in 2014, although there are some minor variations because of the experience of 15 years ago and the inertia of some of the participants who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from that time.


            Compared with 1999, the situation Putin finds himself in today appears “particularly firm,” but “is that so in reality?” Butakov asks. In fact, “the lack of a definite intra-elite opposition is the result, above all, of the negative selection of cadres” by Putin, of his driving out of all “independently thinking personalities” be they Kasyanov or Illarionov.


            “The elite as a whole needs an executor, but the leader for his part needs around him only executors” of his will,” he says. “No one must interfere with his plans to pay the single ‘savior’” of the situation.” Over time, Butakov argues, “this dilemma can become irresolvable.” The real question is: “has that time come?”


            It is still not clear how groups within the elite are reacting to what has changed in their worlds thanks to Putin’s policies. But to the extent that they do become convinced that he threatens their interests, their opposition will first occur behind the scenes and then “provoke a domino effect for the entire political system of ‘enlightened authoritarianism.’”


            How much longer the Putin era will last remains unclear, Butakov says. But “the Russian Federation as ‘the legal successor of the USSR’ or some kind of ‘USSR 2.0’ has turned out to be a failed and lifeless project.” And Putin’s efforts to play a role “exceeding the capacity of the country” are only leading Russia to collapse much faster than would otherwise be the case.


            Consequently, on this New Year’s Eve, Russian must recognize that the longer Putin remains in office and conducts the policies he is promoting now, “the more catastrophic the consequences” will be for everyone concerned.


            One can only hope, Butakov concludes, “that a year from now, our New Year’s television picture will look different than it does today.”

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