In her latest piece for the Intersection Project, Tatiana Stanovaya asks “Are the Russian authorities ready for revolution?” A political scientist and director of analysis at Moscow’s Center for Political Technologies, Stanovaya draws a direct link between the rapid illiberalization of Russia’s domestic policies and the rising possibility of revolution.
Over the past several years, it has become clear that Soviet-style political and social trends, which have developed under President Vladimir Putin, will remain in place for as long as he stays in power. Strict censorship and fierce government propaganda, rigid ideological and nationalistic agendas, prison sentences for publicly expressing dissenting political views, the denunciations of everyone and thing deemed ‘suspicious’, portrayals of Western countries, including the United States, as Russia’s most dangerous enemies – these neo-Soviet tendencies have all re-emerged in full force under Putin and have had an immense impact on the lives of ordinary Russians.
But why is the government so determined to revive the old totalitarian order?
Stanovaya argues that the answer can be found in government fears about the increasing probability of revolution:
Whereas previously the focus was on measures preventing the risks of revolution, in the last few years the question has been re-formulated in a completely different way: do the authorities have enough leverage to quash the revolution? The answer should be affirmative, prior to the election in September 2016.
The Russian authorities’ approach to the risks of revolution has changed conceptually in recent years. The Kremlin has revised the original message, which was initially based on the assumption that a revolution in Russia was a possibility but not a probability. As the possibility of a revolution could be reduced to a set of malleable risk factors, a preventive policy aimed at aborting revolutionary trends – regardless of where they come from – would suffice to reduce the “orange” threat. But now, here we are talking about the probability of a revolution. The difference is that in the new reality, the Kremlin deals not so much with revolutionary potential as it does with the conviction that this potential will be used in fighting against the “fundamentals of state governance” to a greater or lesser extent.
Herein lies the most fundamental feature of the current policy: it is intended not to prevent, but to suppress. Security and military services are put at the forefront as the main counter-revolutionary mechanism. The setting up of the National Guard of Russia, the tightening of anti-terrorist legislation with an ulterior motive in the form of the fight against the opposition – all of it is the result of a different approach to the understanding of political threats to the regime.
As alluded to in Stanvaya’s article, the Kremlin’s fears about growing social unrest are specifically tied to the September 2016 parliamentary and 2018 presidential elections. The Kremlin believes the Russian opposition will become increasingly vocal in the lead-up to these contests and, for this reason, has shifted its approach from preventing to suppressing revolution.
Some journalists and political commentators have written extensively about the absence of any grassroots movement amongst the Russian people, expressing discontent with the growing economic slump, deteriorating standard of living, and worsening political situation. But, in the lead up to the elections, this dissent will likely intensify.
Pointing to the weakness of Putin’s regime, Stanovaya ultimately concludes that Russian authorities are not ready for revolution, nor are they likely to be any time soon:
Putin’s regime is prepared to use force against “revolutionaries”. However, the readiness to use force is directly proportionate to the state’s capacity. The stronger Putin’s regime, the more potentially aggressive it is. However, herein lies the trap: mass protests as a possible scenario imply the weakening of the state and political regime, the social and electoral erosion of its fundamentals. Putin’s regime is far less inclined to use force under such circumstances. And Putin seems to understand that if, and as soon as, protests become mass protests, the beginning of the end for the current system will have arrived.
Read Stanovaya’s full article here.