Staunton, August 4 – Despite the expectations of many in the West and the past behavior of the Russian government, politics, not economics are the driving force behind Vladimir Putin’s policies now: his Russia must now pursue survival rather than growth and thus “victory or death,” according to Konstantin Gaaze.
In a commentary on Slon.ru over the weekend, Gaaze says that as a result of the events of the last six months, “the device of the new Russia is ‘Survival; everything else is nothing.’” And while different members of the elite understand that differently, this shift has enormous consequences.
Among other things, it means that the West’s assumption that gradually ramping up economic sanctions will have an impact is wrong. Putin and his regime don’t care about the impact of those sanctions on the population or even on themselves because the issue now is the political one of survival. That changes their calculus and perhaps should change that of the West.
Within the Putin elite, there are two basic groups, Gaaze says. There are those who think that they simply have to wait out Putin’s “experiment with partisan war in a neighboring state” and then return to cooperation with the West. And there are others who see things differently: “for them, survival means to win,” to show the West it can’t push them around.
But the two groups, he argues, are united on one point: “Russia today is not about economics, not about growth, not about rules from textbooks or investments.” Instead, “politics, or more precisely the current political moment, is deciding everything.”
That is “a revolution,” Gaaze says, given what Putin had been doing before. But “now everything is different,” everything is about protecting the regime and protecting Putin and preventing anyone from forcing them to back down or change course in ways that would compromise either.
The analyst goes on saying that “this logic explains all the important decisions recently adopted by the authorities whether one is talking about the budget and taxes, about anti-offshore laws” or anything else. “It seems there is simply no other logic that could explain the ways in which these are all connected.”
“’Russia is concentrating on itself,’” the great Gorchakov phrase, was used by Putin in his “first and most important pre-election article” in “Izvestiya” in January 2012, Gaaze notes in conclusion. “It is collecting its forces and will respond worthily to any challenges, overcome all tests, and always win,” Putin said.
Moreover, the once and future Russian president declared, “Russia is not a country which retreats before challenges.” If one reads these lines now, Gaaze says, it appears that even then Putin already knew what terrible challenges awaited his country in the new future” and that already by the summer of 2014, Russia would be focusing on itself, not retreating, and not bending its head to any “geopolitical challenges.”
Instead, in Putin’s telling, Russia would be “ready to respond harshly to them and in the end, to win. Economic growth and many other pleasant things during such times” will no longer be central to the thinking of “the supreme power.” It will dismiss them, at least for a time as “not essential for victory.”