Putin Is Replaceable
Published: August 20, 2014 (Issue # 1825)
Will Russia plunge intoáchaos andádarkness after President Vladimir Putin leaves? While itĺs understandable that propaganda-brainwashed Russians might truly think so, it comes as aásurprise when U.S. analysts repeat theásame idea.
ôKnowing theáweakness ofáthe liberal opposition andáthe strength ofáPutinĺs security apparatus, itĺs hard not toáfear that his replacement will make us long foráthe days ofáhis thuggishly predictable unpredictability,ö warns Julia Ioffe onáThe New Republic. ôIf theáU.S. gets rid ofáPutin they will have no ability toácontrol what happens next,ö threatens Mark Adomanis onáForbes.
Such pessimistic estimates, however, are hardly well grounded. Russiaĺs 140 million citizens should be capable ofáreplacing their president with someone who isnĺt living ôin another world,ö as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ofáPutin.
Theáanalysts who are scared ofápost-Putin Russia usually raise theáfollowing points: 1) Putin ruined all independent institutions andámade himself theáonly arbiter ofápower. This will lead toáchaos once he leaves theáKremlin. 2) Putin is theáonly constraint onáRussiaĺs highly motivated andáorganized nationalists, who will transform theácountry intoáa fascist regime once he leaves. 3) Personalistic regimes are rarely followed byádemocratic systems, so whatĺs theápoint ofáreplacing apples with apples?
Letĺs consider those arguments step byástep.
First, itĺs true that Putin has successfully set up anáautocratic political system over theálast 15 years. Byádestroying opposition parties, putting their leaders under arrest andáblocking popular mobilization, theáKremlin has succeeded inálimiting theáRussian populationĺs interest inápolitics. Theáresulting void between theáauthorities andáthe people has led toácomplete alienation between theáelites andáthe masses.
But Russia would not be lost toáchaos if Putin disappeared. Instead, it would empower one ofáthe more politically successful segments ináRussian society today: theáliberal white-collar opposition movement. No other social group ináthe last 20 years has been remotely able toámobilize 100,000 toá200,000 protest participants (as they managed iná2011-12 protests), or theá630,000 Muscovites who voted foráopposition candidate Alexei Navalny during last yearĺs election foráMoscow mayor.
Theávery demobilization ofámost ofáRussian society is also aáguarantee against theáemergence ofánationalistic groups. Many Russians might repeat certain ideas they hear onáthe television, but they wonĺt stand up foráthose ideas. Theáswings ináRussianĺs public opinion onáthe major issues prove that point. Foráexample, theásupport forámilitary invasion ináUkraine dropped 20 percent fromáFebruary toáJune following theásoftening ofáthe media propaganda discourse.
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