Staunton, July 28 – Vladimir Putin is ensuring himself ideologically against a nationalist challenge to himself if Russian militants fighting in Ukraine are forced to return to the Russian Federation where their popularity among many Russians, thanks to the Kremlin’s earlier ideological effort, remains extremely high, according to Yevgeny Ikhlov.
While Ikhlov uses the term “change of monuments” to describe Putin’s ideological shift, he makes it clear that this change so far has in fact been one of nuance rather than clear-cut because the Kremlin leader is still faced with the task of balancing the concerns of the various factions and alliances within his regime.
In a crisis, he says, the regime can form one of three “social-political coalitions”: “Putin and ‘the romantics from the party of power together with supporters of the ‘Russian world’ against liberal westernizers,” “Putin and ‘the realists’ from the party of power with the moderate westernizers against the supporters of the ‘Russian world,’” or “Russian nationalists and liberals against the party of power.”
In March and April, Ikhlov says, one saw “the formation of the first alliance.” It might be called ‘the Crimean’ one. But in over the last month, Putin has clearly moved toward ‘a change of monuments’ and has put in place the basis for the formation of the second possible alliance, that between him, the realists, and the moderate westernizers against the ‘Russian world’-people.
That second coalition, the Moscow commentator continues, presupposes as well a promise “not to tighten the screws,” and Putin has at least nodded in this direction by not having a longer sentence imposed on Udaltsov and Razvozhayev on charges of preparing a revolution, something for which Stalin would have had them shot.
Naturally, Putin “is seeking to give the westernizers as little as possible while receiving from them as much as possible – not only rejection of harsh criticism of the Kremlin” for the Ukrainian “adventure” but also from the kind of condemnation “liberals conducted” against Russian nationalists in the past.
“Today it is not so important which of the liberals will agree to this trade and how large the bonuses they will receive,” Ikhlov argues, “as it is how quickly and in what proportion the democrat-westernizers will show themselves ready for an unspoken union with Putin.”
“Significantly more important” in the new ideological framework Putin is promoting, Ikhlov continues, is the idea that the “heavily armed” insurgents in Eastern Union “from now on will be declared in Russia the main threat to internal stability in Russia because of their super-dangerous ‘radicalism.’”
Ikhlov says that Putin has already opened “a second police front” against the Russian Spring by having Sergey Shergunov, a writer who “illegally” crossed into Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine interrogated. This is “only the first swallow in the new struggle with ‘radicalism.’”
Indeed, the Moscow commentator suggests, this action is an echo of Stalin’s execution of fighters returning from Spain because he knew very well that “they brought not only the experience of battles with the Germans and Italians but also the viruses of an ideological infection under the name of ‘free communism.’”
“One can understand [Putin’s] logic if one starts from the fact that the ‘Novorossiya’ project was directed not against the past Ukrainian revolution but against the dawning Russian one.” That project left the liberals “paralyzed” because of the nationalist “hysteria,” and it allowed Putin to identify those who were “too active Russian nationalists” and thus a threat.
The most immediate victims of this shift by Putin, of course, are likely to be those who pushed for the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis in the hopes of “driving Putin into a counter from which he would have only one way out – the introduction of ‘a limited peacekeeping contingent’ into the Donbass and the open declaration of a cold war against the West.”