May 16th 2021

Russia’s coming deputinization


All leaders eventually leave the historical stage, even those whose rule appears endless. President Vladimir Putin of Russia will be no exception to this truism. Whether his end comes in 2036, as he hopes, or earlier, is unknowable, but, when it does come, Russia will almost certainly embark on deputinization and attempt to rid itself of the worst features of his rule. That won’t be so as much of a choice as an imperative, for Putinism has been a disaster for the country. Russia’s survival will be directly dependent on its ability to deputinize and become, as many Russians put it, “normal.”

Consider what Putin did to Russia during his reign. He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle, the forces of coercion, the oligarchs, and organized crime. He institutionalized corruption, expropriated billions for himself and his allies, and eviscerated rule of law. He parlayed windfall profits from exploding energy prices into a vast military build-up that has terrified Russia’s neighbors, distorted the Russian economy, and left its people less well off. He inadvertently created a huge popular opposition to his rule among Russia’s professional classes and young people. He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state that kills its opponents and tries to intimidate its neighbors. He lost Ukraine, the linchpin of his neo-imperialist dreams. He alienated the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, two of Russia’s staunchest friends. He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war, mobilized the United States against Russia, and reinforced the American relations with Europe. He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships the world over. He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese.

The list could easily be continued, but the moral is clear. Although Putin and his inner circle believe that they have saved Russia and made it great again, the fact is that he has weakened Russia to such a degree that its very survival as a coherent state may soon be in question. Indeed, twelve more years of Putinism could make Russia into a failed state.

At fault is less Putin the man than Putinism the system. Naturally, Putin was central to the emergence of Putinism, but, once created, Putinism acquired a life of its own. The system consists of several main strands: 1) the hyper-centralization of political power, 2) a cult of Putin’s hyper-masculine personality, 3) a neo-imperial policy toward Russia’s neighbors, 4) the attempt to make Russia a world-class great power, power, 5) paranoid style and an antidemocratic, chauvinist ideology, and 6) a rehabilitation and normalization of violence as a tool of internal and external politics. These six components hang together, forming a coherent syndrome that makes it possible to speak of a Putin system that resembles dictatorial authoritarian states and bears comparison with fascism.

These six elements emerged over time. In 1999, when Putin assumed power, one could only surmise that a lifelong agent of the notorious and bloody KGB would be no democrat, desire to restore Russia to its former strength, and view violence favorably. Sometime between his war against Georgia in 2008 and the Orange Revolution of 2004, however, most of these features had come to the fore and become mutually reinforcing. As a result, dismantling Putinism, like dismantling Hitlerism and Stalinism, will require that an entire system of rule and its ideological underpinnings be changed. That will be no easy task. But it will be imperative if post-Putin Russia truly wants to become both great and normal again.

Putin’s eventual departure—regardless of whether it is due to natural causes, a palace coup, or a colored revolution—will immediately put in question the first two components of the Putin system. His successor will not be able immediately to command as high a degree of hyper-centralization and create a persuasive cult of personality, especially if large swathes of the population brought down the regime and remain mobilized. If Russian history is a guide to the future, a vicious power struggle is likely to break out among his potential successors. It may take as long as five years for an heir apparent to emerge, but whoever he is, whether a mini-Putin or an anti-Putin, he will be in no position to sustain the Putin-centric system that Putin cultivated for some 20-30 years.

It is also quite likely that, at least in the immediate aftermath of Putin’s demise, his successor or successors will either abandon or moderate the third and fourth components of the Putin system, partly because the costs are huge (particularly for an economy the size of the Benelux countries), partly because a “new course” could look politically appealing, and partly because an attempt to emerge from rogue-state status and isolation could be advisable. Neo-imperialism and great-power status are policy choices and not ineluctable imperatives of Russian statehood. To be sure, geography and geopolitics do make a difference, sometimes an important one, but history demonstrates that Russia’s foreign-policy goals have always fluctuated—precisely because Russia has fluctuated in size and space, with the result that the Muscovy of the fourteenth century was a different geopolitical entity with different geopolitical interests from the Russian Empire of the eighteenth, the Soviet Union of the twentieth, and the Russian Federation of today or tomorrow.

This is not to say that a post-Putin Russia will inevitably turn into an ally of the West. But it is to say that the possibility of a de-escalation of tensions is at least as high as a continuation of the status quo. Because Russia has changed, and has been changing, since its beginnings in ancient Muscovy, there is no reason to think that it is doomed to be neo-imperialist, aggressive, and illiberal forever. Obviously, as a huge country, it will remain highly influential in Eurasia, but that influence can be benign or malign, depending on a slew of internal and external circumstances.

Although the post-Putin era is likely to look very different from its current incarnation under Putin, the fifth and sixth components of Putinism—a paranoid style, an antidemocratic, chauvinist ideology, and a normalization of violence—may cause trouble. What makes these components likelier to endure as a political culture is that they are shared by most Russian elites and by many ordinary Russians. Political cultures do change, of course, but in general slowly; rapid change may come about as a result of traumas such as wars and genocides. Despite the trauma of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a majority of Russians still view Stalin positively. A majority also looks favorably on Putin and quite likely will continue to do so after his departure.

What effect will their retrograde political culture have on deputinization? We don’t know, of course. All we can do is suggest that the stronger the culture is, the more it will serve as an obstacle to deputinizing Russia’s political system and foreign policy. That sounds like bad news, were it not for the fact that the politics and culture of the inhabitants of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major Russian cities are far more hostile to Putin and Putinism than those of the rest of the country. The demonstrations in Khabarovsk and in support of Aleksei Navalny are a case in point. And when it comes to major transformations of a country, it’s the views of the key cities that matter most.

In sum, post-Putin Russia is in for some big changes and chances are that they will serve to propel the country away from Putinism and toward some form of a more liberal, less aggressive, and more normal regime. The challenge before the West is to keep Putinism contained in Russia—which will require patience, a strong will, and a willingness and readiness to oppose Putin’s aggressions. For if Putin manages to impose Putinism on his non-Russian neighbors—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia—then deputinization will automatically assume the features of multiple national-liberation struggles and the outcome for Putin’s Russia could be, not a mellowing, but, as in the case of the USSR, collapse. Were that to transpire, all bets would be off, as the world would watch in horror as the largest country in the world descended into chaos.


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May 27th 2022
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May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "For citizens of states that are members of NATO, taking all possible steps, short of all-out war, to ensure that Russia does not conquer Ukraine is not even an altruistic sacrifice. It is a long-term investment, for themselves and their children, in freedom, democracy, and the international rule of law."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
EXTRACT: "People’s identification with the Soviet Union appears to have a clear and growing basis in Russian public opinion. Surveys we have conducted throughout the Putin period show that Soviet identification among the general population – something that had been steadily declining after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – began to increase in 2014, when the Russian government annexed Crimea and supported rebellions in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. By 2021, almost 50% of those surveyed identified with the Soviet Union rather than the Russian Federation."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "It may well be that the Russian army’s fate has already been sealed in what is likely to be a long war. The single qualification to this may be that Russia could default to escalation using “weapons of mass destruction” of one form or another – whether tactical nuclear warheads or chemical weapons."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACTS" "Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain and other food for export. Ukraine alone produces a whopping 6% of all food calories traded in the international market. At least it used to, before it was invaded by the world’s largest nuclear power." ...... "When it comes to cereals like wheat, corn, rice and barley, the big players talk about millions of metric tonnes, or MMTs. A single MMT of wheat contains about 3.4 trillion food calories,." ....."Ukraine produced about 80 MMT of grain (a category that includes wheat, corn and barley) in 2021, and is expected to harvest less than half of that this year. A shortfall of 40 MMT is enough missing calories that a country like the UK could only make it up by having everyone stop eating for three years. That’s the thing about tonnes of grain: a million here and a million there and pretty soon you’ve got a real issue on your plate."
Apr 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "I don’t even know the little girl’s name. All I do know is what a friend of a friend wrote on Viber: that her relative, a senior nurse in one of Kyiv’s hospitals, “saw in the morgue a child with 20 varieties of sperm on her small body.” Since this information was conveyed in a private conversation, there is no reason to doubt its veracity."
Apr 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian society has so far failed to stop Putin, just as German society failed to stop Hitler. And so, like a poisoned chalice, that task has fallen to the West, as it did in 1939. The West must now treat Putin and his regime the same way that Winston Churchill treated Hitler: Don’t talk to him, just defeat him. Dead-enders such as Putin are too fanatical and desperate to be reliable negotiating partners."
Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Policymakers expected that the country would be able to secure its energy supply entirely from renewable sources, so they resolved to phase out coal and nuclear energy simultaneously. The last three of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants are set to be shut down this year." ---- ".... the share of wind and solar power in Germany’s total final energy consumption, which includes heating, industrial processing, and traffic, was a meager 6.7%. And while wind and solar generated 29% of the country’s electricity output, electricity itself accounted for only about a fifth of its final energy consumption." ----- "If Germany suddenly halted Russian gas imports, gas-based residential heating systems – on which half the German population, approximately 40 million people, rely – and industrial processes that rely heavily on gas imports would break down....."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."