Authoritarianism in Russia Comes from Bottom Up Not Top Down, Karaganov Says

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, October 23, 2018)

Russia is now living through a period of reaction, Sergey Karaganov says; but its anti-Western roots lie not in the elites but in the population. “Russia’s authoritarianism was not imposed from above but is the result of our history which has formed our genetic code.”

“Without the centralization of power, it would have been impossible to master and provide security to such a gigantic country which geographically does not have easily defended borders,” according to the prominent Moscow foreign policy specialist and commentator (kommersant.ru/doc/3752289).

Whenever that centralized power weakens, Karaganov argues, the Russian people can see that their state and their country are at risk, as happened in the early 17th century, in 1917, and in 1991. “Up to the present,” he says, he considers it a miracle that the country did not die after the 1991 revolution and the ensuing collapse.”

He continues: “Already at the start of the current millennium, we had almost completely exhausted all that we could and needed to take from Europe considering the general level of our development and the special features of our national character, chief among which is the striving to the preservation of independence and sovereignty.”

“Russia is genetically an authoritarian power,” Karaganov insists. “If one calmly recognizes this reality, we can use it as out competitive advantage. Everything is now pushing us toward a further movement toward the East,” given that Europe is in stagnation and a serious crisis.

Behind this are two important developments, the foreign policy specialist says. On the one hand, there is a growing recognition in Russia and elsewhere that law promotes development but democracy doesn’t, at least directly, and therefore is less important than many assumed a generation ago.

And on the other hand, younger Russians even though they choose to go to Europe to study or work are “more nationalistic” than their elders. At the same time, it is true that “they are cosmopolitans in culture and business relations,” but hardly less nationalistic about the defense of their country.

Vladimir Putin understands this, Karaganov says. He, not the leaders of the West, “lvies in the real world, the world of nationalism, open and harsh, which involves military-political competition” and one in which there is now taking place “a powerful redistribution of influence” from where it was in 1991 to something very different.

Russians truly are the heirs of Chingiz Khan and must recognize that fact in order to exploit it. “In the world, there is now a harsh competition among authoritarian states which are better able to concentrate their resources and conduct a consistent long-term policy” than are those clinging to democratic values, Karaganov says.

But authoritarianism is no final “panacea,” he concedes. “It often leads to stagnation and then to collapse. Russia needs another 15 years or so of peaceful development. As a result, we will become more humane and more democratic” even as “our European neighbors inevitably become more authoritarian.”

[article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/10/authoritarianism-in-russia-comes-from.html]