Can Putin or Anyone Else Govern Russia Where No One Revolts but Everyone Hates the Regime? Sociologists Ask

File Photo of Kremlin Aerial View, adapted from .gov source

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, July 19, 2018)

Three sociologists concluded in May that Russia does not now face any risk of a color revolution; but in doing so, they came up with a question to which so far no one has an answer: Can Putin govern the country in which no one revolts but in which everyone hates the regime?

Sergey Belanovsky of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, one of the three (the other two were Anastasiya Nikolskaya and Mikhail Dmitriyev), says they looked into the possibility of a color revolution in Russia because of the general collapse in public approval for Putin and his regime (theins.ru/opinions/110401).

They concluded, he continues, that support for Putin has been falling for most of the last decade – the upsurge after the Anschluss of Crimea was a temporary blip, almost like one from a narcotic, he says – because Russians have increasingly felt that the Kremlin leader has failed to keep his promises and they are asking themselves why he should remain in office.

In addition, Belanovsky says, the decline in support for Putin reflects the Russian leader’s obvious “lack of a clear strategic vision. Someone has written,” he observes, “about the schizophrenic divide in Putin between the idea of ‘back to the USSR’ and ‘forward to capitalism,'” a metaphor he says he finds himself in agreement with.

The decline in support for Putin, his increasing age, and the prospect that someone else will have to become president in 2024 is leading ever more people both in the general population and among elites to talk about who and what will come next, an increasingly fraught problem because of how long Putin has been in office.

Some analysts have argued, Belanovsky says, that this combination of factors could trigger “‘an orange revolution'” in Russia; but he and his colleagues in surveys in Moscow, Vladimir and Gus-Khrustalny two months ago concluded that in fact “there are no signs of such a revolution.”

Putin made his own situation worse by failing to get rid of the even more unpopular Dmitry and his government and for bringing into it such odious figures as the disgraced Vitaly Mutko. When he did that, the sociologists found, Putin himself destroyed any hope that most Russians had for positive change anytime soon.

Nonetheless, most are against a revolution convinced that whatever they do, “nothing will be changed and that it is better than all remain as it is” rather than take the risk that things could get much worse. If a charismatic opposition leader emerged, that could change overnight, Belanovsky says; but the prospects for that are still relatively small.

But their most important finding, the sociologist says, is the emergence of “a strange phenomenon which required deeper investigation. Despite superficial calm and general apathy, “negativism toward the authorities and a demand for radical and decisive measures is growing” across Russia.

And that raises a question that political science textbooks do not have an answer for, he continues. “Is it possible to govern a country where no one will revolt” at least over countrywide issues “but all totally hate the powers that be?”

Most Russian analysts, Belanovsky suggests, would predict either the eventual emergence of “an orange revolution” or “stagnation … with ever growing negativism” and the decay of various social structures. Neither, however, appears that likely; and that raises the questions: is a third outcome possible?”

No one can be sure, but the course of the future development depends in large measure, the sociologist suggests, on the regime’s ability to pay its officials and siloviki, something that it may not be able to do given its desperate search for cash from other groups in the Russian population.

If the regime’s funds eventually do run out, then some kind of “orange revolution” becomes possible if a leader emerges to organize and direct the anger of the population. That risk is clearly on the minds of the Putin regime, Belanovsky argues.

“What must the state do to avoid a revolution?” According to the sociologist, it must “radically restructure the state” by handing over vastly more power to the municipalities so that Russians will see a direct connection between the taxes they pay and the better roads and social services they need.

According to Belanovsky, “reforms of that type are very complicated and require serious advance preparation. But the time for this has almost run out.” The current proposals before the government don’t really touch this issue. To avoid disaster, he says, the government must “now take up reforms in a serious way.”