Russia is in a Stalemate Today But Can’t Stay There for Long, Shevtsova Says

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at state.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, August 31, 2018)

Russia is in a stalemate today because the Kremlin “cannot accept the sanction-backed demands of the West without losing face,” but it also cannot act as if it is indifferent to the sanctions because they are undermining Russia’s ability to remain a great power, Liliya Shevtsova says.

As a result, the Russian political analyst says, “the Kremlin is thinking not about how to respond to the West in a harsh manner but rather how to respond so as not to provoke the West into new unpleasantness. But it isn’t succeeding,” as the announcement of a major military exercise ahead (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2268896-echo/).

“Foreign policy in Russia always was an instrument for the resolution of domestic problems, easing consolidation around the authorities and securing foreign resources,” she continues. But “now foreign policy has become a burden on the budget and led to the formation of an international space hostile to Russia.”

“In sum,” Shevtsova concludes, “foreign policy has begun to harm national interests, but revising it is impossible without destruction the way in which power is organized.” The Kremlin has created within the country “a political Sahara” and “transformed all the institutions into a parody of themselves,” thereby creating “the illusion of control” among the elites.

“But in the absence of legal challenges of expressing their will people have only one way to say what they think – in the streets.”

Moreover, Shevtsova says, “the instruments of power have begun to contradict their task. Thus, on the one hand, Russia cannot get along without militarism, which always was compensated by economic development. [But] on the other, Russia cannot permit itself the militarization” that would require.

“A devaluation of the mechanisms of total power has occurred. Russia always united itself not about national Interest but around an Idea. And where is this Idea today?” That question is critical, because “there cannot be a strong power without a strong idea.” Crimean is ours isn’t capable of serving that role.

The mechanisms of repression have been even more “devalued,” she continues. Today, “they are not capable of defending the powers that be. Now, they serve only their personal interests.”

According to the analyst, “Russia can no longer rely on the imperial component as the foundation of statehood. The end of ‘the Russian world’ and the lack of desire of Kazakhstan, Belarus, and other allies to recognize the annexation of Crimea as legitimate is the end of our Eurasian galaxy.”

The most interesting reaction to the stalemate Russia finds itself in, of course, is within the ruling class, Shevtsova says. “Western sanctions are inevitably leading to its split: to those who will be forced to hole up in Russia and those who will be able to integrate themselves ‘into the West.'”

When and how will Russia move out of its state of stalemate? “This will depend not only on external influence. It will depend in the first instance on the appearance in Russia of a domestic force which will allow the country to get ‘a second breath,'” Shevtsova says. Such “a breakthrough into the future always and everywhere is provided by the intellectual stratum.”

At present, however, there is no obvious candidate for this in Russia. Its intelligentsia has “chosen a different function,” and that leads people to look to the young for a way out. “History says,” the Russian analyst says, “that societies cannot remain in a stalemate for an infinitely long time. They either make a breakthrough or …”

And with that, Shevtsova concludes her essay, leaving open how long Russia can in fact remain in its current “stalemate” and what role if any the Russian intelligentsia will play in the coming months or years.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/08/russia-is-in-stalemate-today-but-cant.html]