Washington Post: What will happen to Russia after the war and Putin?
The way Russia emerges from this catastrophe can change the world for a long time. In addition to the country’s own destiny, its course will affect Ukraine’s struggle to survive as a democracy, whether Belarus will be freed from a tyrant, whether China and Russia can maintain their “alliance of despots”, the fate of a world economy dependent on Russian energy exports, and much more. As Navalny put it, even if Ukraine succeeds in fighting back the Russian occupiers, “what is the guarantee that the world will not face an even more aggressive regime, tormented by resentment and imperial ideas that have little to do with reality?”
There is no guarantee for this. No one can know for sure how the war will end and what the consequences will be. Suffice it to recall the amazing turn of events that brought Putin to power. He was personally chosen by President Boris Yeltsin and his entourage. When Yeltsin announced his resignation in late 1999, he entrusted everything to a little-known former KGB officer with no experience or sympathy for the democratic aspirations of the previous decade, and who eventually reversed them. As a result, Putin has built a personalized dictatorship around his own power and whims.
In the future, Russia may face various difficulties.
One grim scenario is that Putin’s anti-Western authoritarian kleptocracy, mixing crony capitalism and despotism, will persist without him. A significant part of the Russian population is still angry and supportive of the president, which makes it a suitable platform for a demagogue. As analyst Nikolai Petrov has noted, Putin’s anti-Western rhetoric is “strongly entrenched in the hearts and minds of many Russian citizens” who are in “a state of deep resentment towards the West” and believe that he prevented Russia from regaining its great power status.
The continuity is also strengthened by the powerful security and military structures that Putin has used and expanded for more than two decades.
But the key questions that are now impossible to answer are related to the consequences of a likely defeat in Ukraine: Will the military, humiliated and resentful, rise up against the Kremlin power structure? Will the population as a whole rise?
The other part of the Russian population – obviously significant and possibly coinciding with the first – simply wanted to be left alone. These citizens endured Putin’s thieves’ elite and political repression in exchange for a certain amount of personal space in their own lives, as well as some prosperity and freedom of movement abroad.
They finally have a motive to protest the authorities after Putin’s recent order to mobilize disturbed their peace, but their alienation from politics and their passivity persisted.
The third cohort, much smaller, are professionals and members of the middle class, educated, experienced, well traveled and democratic. Many of them have left Russia en masse since the beginning of the war, but perhaps not forever. The older ones witnessed Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika and saw the 1990s as a brief period of freedom in Russia’s long history of autocracy. Thousands of people from this group are stuck in Russian prisons for protesting in support of Navalny or against war and mobilization.
Navalny described in his essay the destruction of Putin’s fortress of greed and a second attempt at democracy. He correctly points out that the super-presidential system was built for Yeltsin in the 1993 Russian Constitution. “At the time, it seemed logical to give a lot of power to the good guy,” he wrote.
Putin inherited Yeltsin’s powers, but not his commitment to constitutional guarantees of freedom. Navalny advocates a parliamentary republic that would lead to “a radical reduction in power in the hands of one person.” Such a change would require a new constitution, a lot of work, and more. In a report to the Atlantic Council last year, Anders Åslund, an economist and specialist on Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe, and Leonid Gozman, a politician and columnist with a long history of involvement in democracy movements in Russia, outlined what might be needed to build democracy in Russia. .
They advocate a parliamentary system and a new democratic constitution, but add a long list of mandatory tasks.
- This is the restoration of complete freedom of speech, assembly, and belief;
- release of political prisoners;
- cutting out “cancer” in the form of oligarchs milking the state for the sake of their own enrichment;
- establishing a genuine rule of law;
- the dissolution of the security services in its current form;
- the restoration of a functioning parliament;
- free elections and the transfer of power to regions and cities.
After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, sincere attempts were made to build a market democracy and emulate the West. As Maria Lipman recently noted, “People in early post-Communist Russia yearned for their country to become ‘normal’, which meant ‘like in the West’.” The West has been hailed as a political role model. For the first time in its history, Russia imitated not only Western culture or technology, but also the Western political system. The framers of the post-communist Russian constitution drew inspiration from Western charters. No more barriers for Russian citizens from the West: censorship has been lifted, borders are open, travel abroad is not restricted, and foreign trade is no longer the exclusive prerogative of the state.”
Yeltsin created a twisted oligarchic capitalism, a proto-democracy, a nascent civil society, but he failed to implement the rule of law. For many Russians, this was a disorienting time. Lipman wrote: “It is not surprising that the imitation of the West could not provide a Western standard of living. The first post-Soviet decade brought with it political upheaval, the collapse of the traditional security system, deep insecurity and deep disillusionment.”
Putin capitalized on this frustration, recalling the 1990s as pure chaos and riding a wave of prosperity in the years that followed, fueled by oil exports. He sidelined the oligarchs of the Yeltsin years and subjugated them to his will, enriching his henchmen in the process. Gradually, he trampled on the germs of democracy. Now they don’t exist at all.
Now the United States and Europe, major players in promoting democracy in the 1990s, must prepare for what happens next in Russia. There will be no more pursuit of Western values. The American toolkit of the post-Soviet period will not necessarily be useful. It is imperative to start thinking now about how to reach a society that has been so bitter over the past two decades.
Ideally, after the war and after Putin, Navalny will be free from shackles and play a leading role in anchoring Russia in a democratic system. This is the result to be hoped for.
But it would also be prudent to expect Russia to follow other paths, perhaps under another unique leader. A country may be humiliated by defeat in a war, but that will not necessarily lead it to freedom.
The article was first published in The Washington Post.
*The article has been translated based on the content of www.moscowtimes.ru . If there is any problem regarding the content, copyright, please leave a report below the article. We will try to process as quickly as possible to protect the rights of the author. Thank you very much!
*We just want readers to access information more quickly and easily with other multilingual content, instead of information only available in a certain language.
*We always respect the copyright of the content of the author and always include the original link of the source article.If the author disagrees, just leave the report below the article, the article will be edited or deleted at the request of the author. Thanks very much! Best regards!