Today it makes sense to examine Putin’s legacy in practical regard, through the prism of certain questions: What is of abiding importance and should be preserved for the next generation of Russian leaders? What needs to be changed and developed? What should be best avoided in the future?
Sergei Chemezov’s comments on the public mood in Russia testify not to the specter of a thaw, but, on the contrary, to the fact that the clampdown is in full swing, and only individual members of the inner circle are apprehensive of the authorities’ new radical strategy of repression, which will provoke a new spiral in the war that is already de facto raging between the state and civil society.
Russia’s government agencies are so busy competing with one another and presenting themselves in a good light to the Kremlin that they are failing to deal with the new street protests.
This month’s protests in Moscow over city parliament elections are proof that Russia’s non-systemic opposition has taken its struggle to be recognized by the Kremlin as a major political player to a new level. Faced with a foe that has seized the initiative, set the agenda, and brought people into the streets, the Kremlin is at a loss. Its brightest idea, it seems, is to forcibly disperse the protests and prosecute the demonstrators: an approach that risks the state’s takeover by the siloviki.
Having lost his leadership, President Putin now has one chance to carry out major reform that would at least temporarily restore the status of national leader to him. The problem is that after twenty years at the helm, he needs to offer society something a little more solid than the national projects. His final reform must in some sense put an end to the way of ruling the president has adhered to since he first came to power: i.e., using brute force to rule the country.
Putin perceives growing discontent with the authorities as a purely emotional reaction, based not on real problems but on society’s failure to understand the true picture. This means that no significant revision of the country’s social and economic direction should be expected. Instead, the president and society will suspect each other of being unreasonable and not understanding what is really going on.
While the authorities used the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to blame the United States for Russia’s problems, the forum’s main unofficial topic was the lawlessness and impunity of the security services, or siloviki. Faced with the question of what is preventing business and investors from developing in Russia, the authorities and the business elite had contradictory answers.
The Russian regime is less and less like a well-tuned orchestra with a confident conductor, and more and more like a cacophony in which every musician is trying to play louder and get more attention than everyone else. No one is focusing on the harmonious sound of the symphony. Instead, institutional and corporate priorities take precedence over national priorities, and are carried out at the latter’s expense. This political divergence has been provoked by Putin’s political absence, and fueled by a general fear of an uncertain future and lack of clarity regarding Putin’s plans.
Unlike Nazarbayev, Putin was not as strongly affected by the death of the Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov and the ensuing division of power which ended badly for late president’s family. Will Putin even leave behind much that will need protection? It seems that his primary concern will not be family or the family business, but problems of another dimension: what will become of Crimea, Russia’s presence in Syria, and the country’s ability to assert its sovereignty and withstand the confrontation with the U.S. and NATO.
Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin used to avoid the spotlight. Much of his work—the Russian internet troll factory, the Wagner private military company, and political research in Africa—required secrecy. But all that changed when Russian and Western media exaggerated his role in Russian politics and essentially forced him into President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.