A political expert close to the Russian government, who wished to remain anonymous, has told EADaily that in its internal policy the Kremlin is acting in line with the international situation that followed Crimea’s reunification with Russia. This can help the Russian authorities to develop a healthier economic policy. On the other hand, one can’t make any long-term predictions on the matter until the presidential election in the United States is over as it may cause very serious changes in the general situation and, particularly, in Russia’s relations with Ukraine. But already today it is obvious that the stopgap decisions made on Ukraine two years ago were a mistake.
The first question is what is going on in the country today. How can you describe it in two or three phrases?
The authorities are preparing for the presidential campaign of 2018, with the biggest political players trying to turn this process into their advantage. The system is being tested to international political, economic and social resistance.
Do you share the opinion that the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Russia have no sense as almost nobody takes them seriously?
The key questions the elections are supposed to answer are as follows:
What a result the United Russia will show? A poor result will mean that Dmitry Medvedev and his Cabinet are inefficient and will have to resign. Today the party has little chance to succeed: the economy is declining, more and more people are beginning to protest as poverty is growing, most of the pro-government candidates do not sound convincing in their electoral promises, while Medvedev’s declarations, like “there is no money but you should keep going” are making things even worse.
The second question is how effective first deputy head of the Russian presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin’s political management concept will prove to be. Volodin suggests that democratization and promotion of political competition can make the political system stronger. The key challenge to this concept is PARNAS, a liberal opposition force closely cooperating with radical nationalists and neo-Nazis. This alliance is sure that the election will not be fair and is already preparing for post-electoral street protests. Should these protests grow into public disorders and, say, takeover of the Central Election Commission, the country’s political system will face consequences similar to the ones that followed the May 2 2012 events on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.
What a turnout do you expect? Do you share the opinion that low turnout would shatter the regime’s legitimacy? Or may this be just part of a global trend?
The real turnout will range within 45-50%. Here we may have some problems in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. This is not a high turnout but there is nothing critical in it. During the last elections into the U.S. Congress in 2014, the turnout was just 36.4%.
Should we expect dismissals of regional leaders depending on outcomes of the State Duma elections?
The governors who will fail to ensure high voting for United Russia will certainly be dismissed. Now that the ruling regime is preparing for a presidential election it does not need weak links.
I can’t say exactly who will be dismissed but one of the most vulnerable figures is (Moscow Mayor) Sergey Sobyanin: the elections will also be a kind of a referendum on his work – Sobyanin’s policy to urbanize Moscow and to optimize its social facilities has strongly displeased Muscovites. The Moscow city administration has always been inefficient in political management and now that the use of administrative resources is impossible, the elections may become a strong blow for Sobyanin.
What an effect can the results of the parliamentary elections have on the presidential election?
We better wait for the results. The key question here is if Putin will run for a new term or not. United Russia’s failure will mean that “the fridge has beaten the TV set” and that “the Crimean consensus is over.”
Does the ruling regime have an alternative to gripping on power? Can it act like the kings of the Second French Empire did: when a regime’s stability is based on indulgence of the people?
The regime’s strategy should be strengthening international positions and repulsing external, primarily, U.S. pressures. Russia’s internal priorities should come from foreign political imperatives. Our peculiarity is that some elements of our political system have had precedents in history but their mixture is unique and can hardly be associated with Bonapartism.
The parliamentary elections of 2011 revealed a serious split in the elite. Is the elite stronger today? Is there anything today that can cause a new elite revolution?
Today, the elite is much stronger than it was in 2011. Of course, some clans are still fighting for seats but this will hardly cause a new split. Today, the elite is following one leader as Medvedev is not as strong as he was in 2011.
Can we say that some people from the elite are tired of Crimea? In this light, what reactions can we expect from them?
The “liberal” Kudrin-led part of the elite is displeased with the processes developing after 2014. Their goal is normal relations with the West based on one-sided concessions. But those people have nothing to offer to the Kremlin. They cannot act as a mediator as for the United States the only solution is Russia’s capitulation on Ukraine and Syria. So, the key problem of the pro-Western liberal elite is that they in the West are not teaming them up.
If we go two years back, was it right on Russia’s part to decide not to put the squeeze on Ukraine?
It was a mistake. Today it is clear that it is impossible to come to terms with Poroshenko and that it was wrong to believe that a softer policy on Ukraine would save us from a conflict with the United States. Even though Russia refrained from sending troops to Ukraine, it still faced economic sanctions after the Boeing provocation.
What prices are we paying for our laissez-fairs on Ukraine?
One of the prices is that we are facing the constant risk of a big war with Ukraine. And even though we are spending a lot to secure Donbass and Crimea from possible attacks, the Ukrainians will not miss the chance to do it. So, in the southwest we have a big outright enemy.
Second, we are forced to finance Donetsk and Lugansk as their economies have been almost ruined by the war.
Third, there are almost no pro-Russian forces left in Ukraine. Local mass media are imaging Russia as Ukraine’s eternal enemy, with radical nationalists and neo-Nazis constantly calling for a war. The most dangerous thing is that anti-Russian ideas are being engrafted at schools, which means that more and more young Ukrainians will be hostile to Russia.
Fourth, Ukraine remains the key obstacle between Russia and the United States. If Ukraine was ruled by a pro-Russian regime, the West would have no chances there and would be forced to be softer on Russia. But as long as Kiev is in the hands of anti-Russian forces, there will always be a chance for the West to use Ukraine against us.
Fifth, Russia is facing all the consequences of the western sanctions: the West’s refusal to lend money to Russian companies is shattering our economy.
Sixth, Ukraine is gradually turning into a “black hole” with thriving crimes from drugs trafficking to terrorism, and, like it or not, it is exporting instability and crime to its neighboring countries, including Russia.
What solutions do you suggest here? Can we say that we have missed the chance to solve this problem and will now have a hostile neighbor by our side?
Yes, we have missed the chance. Our authorities hope that economic crisis and international isolation ruin the Kiev regime. And they are right: the economic crisis in Ukraine is irreversible, with the West growing less and less enthusiastic about Euromaidan. But this strategy will need a lot of time and will not guarantee military security.
There are three solutions for Ukraine.
First, the Americans stop supporting Kiev, with Ukraine falling apart as a result of internal contradictions. This is possible only if Donald Trump comes into power in the United States. This will give a start to a total war in Ukraine, where everybody will be fighting everybody. This will hardly make Ukraine pro-Russian but this will make it no more dangerous for Russia as was the case with Georgia after Mikheil Saakashvili.
Second, the Kiev regime will undertake a big war against Russia. Ukraine will lose the war and will be reformatted. It is hard to say what format new Ukraine will have. This scenario may be triggered by a radical regime, for example, Andriy Parubiy.
Third, there will be a “neither peace nor war” situation as is the case with India and Pakistan.
What consequences can different outcomes of the presidential election in the United States have on Russia?
The results of the presidential election in the United States will be decisive for our choice. Until then there is no sense for us to build any long-term plans.
Trump’s victory will mean lower tension and normal relations with the West, while Clinton’s victory may result in oil embargo and even broken diplomatic relations.
What a place in the global system do we have now? The key result of Putin’s presidency is that he has kept Russia from becoming a global periphery. Today, we are moving along a semi-peripheral track – as Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein would put it. Can we go off this track?
Yes, today, we are in semi-periphery. Since 2014 we have been moving away from the periphery status: we are steadily implementing our import-substitution policy, we are becoming less and less dependent on foreign capital, our debt is growing less quickly than in 2010-2013. This all is affecting consumption, but, on the other hand, this is paving the way for economic growth.
Interviewed by Nikolay Protsenko