One of the most beloved and effective arguments of those who favor a softer approach to Moscow regardless of what it does is that such an approach will help liberals in the Kremlin win out. But as two leading Russian analysts point out in a new essay, “there are no liberals” there. Those who say otherwise are deceiving themselves and others. In the latest issue of The American Interest, Anton Barbashin of the Intersection Project and Vladislav Inozemtsev of the Moscow Center for Post-Industrial Studies, say that the dichotomy between “liberals” and “statists” that informs much Western analysis “obscures the real divisions” in Moscow.
Their article merits close study in its entirety. Its key points are as follows:
“Russia watchers love to divide Putin’s inner circle and other decision-making groups in Russia into so-called liberals and étatists. According to this view, certain of Putin’s men believe in some form of liberalism, especially when it comes to the economy. … The other group is the so-called étatists or statesmen, who oppose liberal values, stand for more aggressive foreign and domestic policies, and are generally pro-conflict.
“Most Russia watchers see the Kremlin’s decisions and policy shifts through the lens of these two opposing groups and their relationship with Putin. This simplistic paradigm portrays Putin as the political leader above all the groups and their spheres of interest. All decisions, thus, emerge from the balancing of the two sides.
“But the bigots continue to treat progressives and neutrals as enemies of the state, along with those among the population who support or sympathize with them. And so the divide within the Russian public persists.
“This divide could be roughly estimated as 80 percent to 20, where 80 percent of Russians are either politically inert or support conservatives (with a minority of them honestly supporting the bigots), while 20 percent at the most are economically and politically progressive.