Staunton, April 23 – The best way to understand the events of the last several months, Stanislav Belkovsky argues, is to view them as a repetition of the August 1991 coup with only this difference: the leader of this coup is Vladimir Putin and the target of his radical shifts is the Putin of the past.
In a post on Slon.ru, the Moscow commentator argues that Putin has so changed course and for many of the same reasons that the earlier coup plotters did that one is entirely justified in saying that “in the spring of 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin removed from power the man he had been in 1999-2000”.
According to his argument, Putin’s coup against himself will lead to “the final self-destruction of the Soviet-Russian empire,” mean “Russia in the end will become a European nation state,” although its borders like those of Ukraine are at issue,” and raise only the existential question for Russians: “will we live to see this?”
In the past, Belkovsky begins, “Putin protected the interests of Russian elites, sharing money with them and pursuing their (and his own) legalization in the West. In foreign policy, he was a moderate Westernizer who fulfilled all the system-forming obligations to the Euro-Atlantic world.”
But despite that, he felt himself insulted and injured by the West and finally resolved to change course, all the more so because the prospect of Russia’s economic decline and continuing massive corruption has “alienated the active part of the elites from the powers” and has led to “disappointment” among them and in himself.
Like the coup plotters in August 1991, Belkovsky says, “Putin was forced to close himself off in Foros in Crimea and bring into the Kremlin (Novo-Ogarevo) himself but in a qualitatively new 2014 model” in order to achieve to coup-like goals: stop any perestroika and disintegration and reduce the significance to society of the looming economic collapse.
This coup has in some respects “a qualitatively new content” in that it is based on the self-isolation of the country and the denigration of the interests of those who have been the Russian elite. “All must now swear allegiance” to what is in effect martial law “or leave the country.” A better choice than in the past because there are no plans for a new GULAG.
“Formally,” Belkovsky says, “everything will remain as it is,” but in fact, the country will operate in an entirely new way, one in which the parliament has been effectively dissolved and Putin, who is far more competent than the August 1991 coup plotters, will have all power in his hands.
Because of that different, the current coup is likely to be more stable and long lasting than was the earlier one. “But all the same,” Belkovsky says,” because like its predecessor, it is “standing in the path of the locomotive of history” and thus will inevitably fail. “The question is only what price Russia will have to pay for the spring 2014 ‘coup.’”
The chief motivation behind Putin’s coup is anger at the West and a desire for revenge. Ukraine is related to this because that country has been the site of some of Putin’s most prominent failures, from the Orange Revolution of 2004 on. He “could tolerate much, but not that a NATO base might appear in Ukraine and that country in the foreseeable future become part of Europe” and turn its back on Moscow.
Some now think that Putin will stop after Crimea and possibly Donetsk and Luhansk. But Belkovsky says that he won’t because “this would contradict the very logic” of a Russian coup version two. Instead, while there may be pauses, Putin will continue to try to distract the Russian people with “small victorious special operations.” He doesn’t have any other choice.
The Kremlin leader, however, won’t do anything that might lead to a clash with NATO. Russia isn’t ready for such a fight. But there are steps he can and is likely to do, Belkovsky suggests, including trying to build a land corridor to Trandniestria, recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh, and “massive investments in the victory of pro-Russian forces in Latvian elections.”
“Why not?” Belkovsky asks rhetorically.
In other comments, he suggests that Western sanctions if they are broad enough will have a major impact on elite but not so much popular attitudes in Russia and that Moscow wanted the Geneva accords to de facto acknowledge its annexation of Crimea and to “win a little time” in order to create conditions in Ukraine that would lead the West to limit its support of Kyiv.
He also says that Putin is likely to try to compensate for the growing extent of capital flight from Russia by making that country a safe haven for black market capital – such as money from drug dealing – and for the owners of that capital. “Such people will begin to define ever more the moral and business climate of Russia in the era” of the second coup.
And Belkovsky concludes by observing that people should not be so pessimistic about Ukraine’s future. “Ukraine has now really acquired a unique chance to become a European country.” If Kyiv has to make certain territorial concessions to achieve that, so what? Entering Europe will more than compensate for them and the future may even reverse them.