Staunton, March 20 — Vladimir Putin deserves and takes credit for “’pulling’” Russia out the 1990s, Vladislav Inozemtsev says, but his failure to institutionalize the mechanisms he used means that the stabilization he achieved during the first decade of this century could not last and that the lack of institutionalization opens the way to the danger of revolution.
Unlike most analysts who link Putin’s success to the rise in oil prices and his problems to their fall, Inozemtsev says that “Putin’s success was based on two important things:” First, the preservation of the privileges, property and “in part” influence of a significant number of oligarchs and politicians who had risen to power under Yeltsin.
And second, the economist argues, it depended on his “introduction into the game of a mass of new figures which received their portions of property and influence but acquired them not in the course of a voluntarist redistribution…but…quickly and ‘peaceably.’”
But neither of these “processes” presupposed, he points out, “any formal institutions,” the first because the formation of these things would threaten their position and the second because “any transparent and clearly-defined order” would not permit them to satisfy their appetites for more in the future.
And those two things meant that “the Putin stability was and remains to this day ‘the stability of temporary people,’” all of whom “understand that order is not eternal” and act accordingly. Indeed, their behavior, including salting away money abroad, is entirely based on the assumption that what is will not last forever.
Putin’s system as set up a decade ago “turned out to be unique in that it did not require institutions” but could rely instead on “’understandings.’” There were no real constraints except for “banal profits” that one or another member of it could or hoped to extract, Inozemtsev continues.
In the first two decades after 1991, “few really believed that the system would last for decades.” Instead,” he says, “all clearly understood that the figure of Putin himself was considered by the majority of players around him as no more than temporary.”
“But the temporary became the continuing,” and precisely that poses “one of the most terrible challenges to the system.” While it might appear to benefit the incumbents, it means that some are seeking to institutionalize a system which is “based on the firm denial of institutionalization.”
This process began in an almost unnoticed fashion several years ago, Inozemtsev says, “but it has become now ever more clear.” And those who are most interested in it include many who were in no way connected “with those who began to build it” and who thus have quite different agendas.
Indeed, he suggests, the true watershed in recent Russian history was not what happened in the wake of the collapse of the USSR because the same players were involved on both sides but rather now when the new players are people who “take what is transitional for eternal, a game for reality, and form for content.”
“I would even say,” Inozemtsev says, “that the current processes recall not the dividing line between the 1980s and the 1990s in the Soviet Union but the events which preceded 1917 in Russia and 1933 in Germany.” Given the rise of new people and the absence of institutions, “the current power could end just as dramatically as Kerensky’s or as quietly and step by step as Hindenburg’s.” But such “nuances” won’t be the most important thing.
The economist adds that he would be “glad to be mistaken” but it appears to him that “the differences between G. Yavlinsky and S. Shoigu, V. Ryzhkov and I. Sechin now are much less significant … that between all of them and those crowds which sometimes march peacefully in Moscow in the Anti-Maidan” but sometimes act violently in Eastern Ukraine.
“Before our eyes,” he continues, “a generation of people with no limits is rising up, a group who with unbelievable ease could become the masters of the new Russia in the second half of this decade.” Their prospects are much better than their marginal predecessors in the “wild” 1990s, and the consequences of their potential success are truly horrific.