There Are Alternatives to Putin and Not All of Them Are In the Kremlin, Satarov Says

February 5, 2015

Staunton, February 4 – In any political system, there is always “an alternative” to the current leader, Georgy Satarov says, and consequently, when Vladimir Putin leaves his position, a new head of Russia will emerge — and it won’t necessarily be someone from the current Kremlin entourage or happen peacefully.

But it is “another matter” entirely to describe how that individual will emerge, the former Yeltsin adviser says in an interview with “Under Putin, a legitimate change of power appears problematic.” Problematic, however, doesn’t mean “impossible,” he insists. It could even involve a revolution.

Satarov says that he does not exclude that possibility although he doesn’t see it happening soon. For it to occur, sanctions would have to be in place long enough to lead to deficits, unemployment, and an increase in crime. Add to that “caskets coming back from the Donbas,” and “social protest will inevitably grow. When it takes on political form, everything is possible.”

And the form it will take will come from leaders who arise in the course of the growth of social protest rather than from people in the Duma. It could even come from within Putin’s entourage, many of whose members are unhappy with things as they are but who are generally “unprepared for action” although they would accept a new leader with alacrity.

According to Satarov, sanctions are hitting Russia hard because its economy was too focused on oil and gas exports, because it lacks the resources to overcome the financial situation it faces, and especially because the way out of its current dilemma “lies not in the sphere of economics but in the area of reforms of legal and political institutions.”

Moscow is running out of time, he continues. The “most optimistic” forecasts predict a collapse by mid-2016, but Satarov says that he thinks things will come much sooner, the result of a combination of the impact of sanctions and increased military spending which Russia cannot afford.

Those who think sanctions are not playing a role are wrong; they simply expect them to work more quickly than they can. Sanctions, Satarov points out, “work step by step,” but even now they are creating real problems for Moscow and the Russian population and those problems will only grow in the coming months.

Polls showing Putin with 85 percent support are inaccurate, he continues. At most 15 percent really support him. The remainder consists “simply of conformists.” They supported past leaders for that reason, and they will support any future one as well. Only a minuscule part of the population is politically active and will cause change.

With regard to the war in Ukraine, Satarov says that Putin bears “direct and maximum” responsibility for the conflict. “This is his war.” But he says he “completely excludes” the possibility that Putin would attack the Baltic countries or other European states. The very idea of that is “laughable” because Moscow does not have the resources to do so.

In Ukraine, Putin will try to keep the situation at a low boil so as to create “controlled chaos” and keep Kyiv and the West off balance. He cannot retreat, but “he hasn’t been able to seize the east of Ukraine” completely and wouldn’t be able to take more if he tried. And it must be remembered that Crimea is Ukrainian territory, whatever Putin says.

Satarov said that he has “no doubt” that the current government in Kyiv is legitimate, and he says he is watching “with enormous sympathy” as it is forced to deal with an enormous range of complex problems. And he says that eventually, after Putin, it may be possible for Ukrainians and Russians to have a rapprochement, but that this will require several decades.

Asked whether Putin’s regime is a form of fascism, Satarov says that this is “of course, not the case. A fascist regime is above all an ideological regime, and Putin’s Russia has no ideology.” Its notions of a Russian world and sovereignty democracy are simply playing at ideology for television viewers.

For a regime to be said to have an ideology, that set of ideas must “in the first instance” penetrate and be accepted by the elite. “The Putin elite in Russia doesn’t believe in ‘a Russian world;’ they are too pragmatic and mercantile comrades for that.” Consequently, what exists in Russia is not fascism but rather something else.

Satarov says that he can best describe it as “a plebiscite-based dictatorship with an admixture of extreme kleptocracy” one which uses “the appearance of democratic procedures” but allows for no real choice as the basis for “the quasi-legitimation of the regime. With quasi-elections, quasi-polls, and quasi-freedom of speech.”

Fascism, were it to come, Satarov concludes, would “shamelessly get rid of all of this, but a dictator who bases his power on plebiscites needs to create the appearance of democratic procedures.”