Staunton, January 25 – The Anschluss of Crimea could have become the occasion for the formation of a new nation in Russia, just as Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine have contributed to nation building in Ukraine. But Vladimir Putin has not been willing or perhaps even able to take that step, Aleksandr Morozov says.
The reason, Russian commentator argues, is that “from the very beginning” those who supported the annexation of Crimea were not a single whole but three distinct groups: “a party of war,” “’non-aggressive anti-Westerners,’” and “’hostages of the Crimea is Ours’” campaign.
The post-Crimea “party of war,” he says, includes “a broad spectrum of social groups and personages from the military and journalists to ordinary young men who are psychologically read to enter into a real war with the West.”
The “’non-aggressive anti-Westerners’” are an even larger social group consisting of those who are convinced that the West has always mistreated Russia and always will. “They understand” that Russia isn’t strong enough to take on the West, but that understanding, Morozov says, “only strengthens their solidarity with Putin.”
And “‘the hostages of Crimea is Ours’” as an idea are also numerous and include many who may not initially have backed the annexation of Crimea but who have been for 15 years “active participants of the Putin consensus.” Under current conditions, they find it impossible to leave it.
According to Morozov, “all three of these fractions are developing ‘in their own ways,’” and that presents real problems for Putin who is seeking to link them together in order to have the broadest support possible for his policies.
The “non-aggressive” group sees what is happening as confirmation of their views about the West and is reinforcing their old resentments with new ones. They do not necessarily support new acts of aggression, but there is growing sense that “if the West hates us so much, then one can expect anything from it, even war.”
From that perspective, Morozov says, Putin appears to be “an extraordinarily restrained and wise politician” who is avoiding war, and its adepts conclude that “we must be prepared for victims if only to save ourselves from the aggression of the West which wants to ‘dismember’ us.”
The “party of war,” in contrast, is strengthening in an uncontrolled fashion: “it wants not victims but victory” and includes veterans groups, military personnel, and some politicians like Sergey Mironov. And “the hostages” are simply playing a game of wait and see.
Collectively, these groups form the 84–87 percent support Putin garners in in the polls, and they would seem to provide the basis for the formation of a new Russian nation. But that hasn’t happened because within this group, “’the party of war’ is undoubtedly moving toward a left-nationalist consensus, but this is not a Putin but a post-Putin consensus.”
This has led many analysts in Russia and elsewhere to conclude that “after Putin can be only ‘a still worse Putin,’” a conclusion that many of the Crimea is Ours “hostages” share. But all three of the groups in Russia are in constant motion, awaiting “some sort of ‘resolution of the situation.”
“Some are waiting for the shift to the stage of a victorious war;” Morozov says. “Others are waiting for ‘Putin’ or ‘a new Putin to end ‘the policy of indeterminacy,’ and still a third are waiting for a declaration calling for them to ‘sacrifice’ themselves.” These different positions are producing “a colossal number of words,” reflecting the fact that Russia has public discussions but no real institutions.
That has the effect, Morozov argues, of converting all of this talk into “a daily production of political populism” in which different people strike different poses but in which no one sees any particular version as the only possible one. Instead, they read into what is said what they believe rather than take from it that which is intended.
In this situation, he continues, “Putin is not in a position to administer this ‘post-Crimea consensus.’” He can’t rely completely on the party of war or the party or hostages. Instead, he is trying to balance among them while counting on “the party of victims.” But that has put him in a difficult position.
“Having left the stable waters of ‘administered democracy’ and launched the Crimean adventure, Putin has not only changed the consensus [on which he had operated] but also his function in it. He is no longer ‘an effective manager at the head of a state, but rather ‘someone ‘who reigns but does not rule,’ to use the terms of absolutism.”
The Kremlin leader is seeking to maintain himself by riding “on a crest of populism” in order to “surf on all three boards” at once. That matters, Morozov says, and is why “it is impossible to serious compare Putin’s regime either with the Soviet one of the 1930s of the corporate states of Italy, Germany or Spain of the interwar period.”
Instead, the Russian commentator argues, the most fitting comparison of Putin’s current situation is with that of Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslavia of the mid–1990s. Most people can’t see this because they view that situation from today’s perspective rather than how things appeared before the Dayton accords.
At that time, “no one knew either the further strategy of Milosevic or the future position of the West.” No one should say that “Putin is Milosevic,” but it is increasingly obvious that “there is a deep typological resemblance between Serbian society of the mid–1990s and Russian society ‘post-Crimean.’”
“Russian society,” Morozov says, “being divided into three fractions is beginning to discuss the problem of Ukraine with various ideological patterns approximately in the same way as in the early phase of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Serbian politicians made use of the theme of Croatia.”
Indeed, he continues, “in a paradoxical way, for Russia, ‘the inclusion of Crimea’ is heating up society in the same way that ‘the exclusion of Kosovo’ played for Yugoslavia.”
Such parallels, Morozov concludes, that those around Putin or those who “intend to participate in the reorganization of Russian politics after Putin must now be analyzing not the experience of classical totalitarianism or corporate states but he political history of Milosevic and Serbian society of the 1990s.”
And those parallels, although Morozov does not say so, also have some obvious and important implications for Western countries whose leaders hope to prevent the current situation from getting any further out of hand.