“Read our history: the Russians will never give up their leader. We will tighten our belt, eat less food, suffer any privations, but if outsiders want to force changes on us, we will be united as never before,” Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov told the World Economic Forum at Davos, the Daily Telegraph reports:
Mr Shuvalov said a utopian quest for freedom is the curse that brought down the Soviet Union. In a bizarre digression, he then launched into tirade against former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, accusing him of leading the country to destitution and collapse by opening up to western ideas.
“This freedom they are trying to impose on us, it is freedom from common sense, it is freedom of the media to insult anybody, to throw dirt in his face. That’s not freedom,” he said.
The desire to retain control compels such a leader to concoct a strange blend of nationalism and religion, subjugating all values and ideology to the higher purpose of ensuring his political survival. …..This system considers ideas in any form — unless they serve the needs of the regime — as mortal enemies. This even includes nationalism and fundamentalism. Leaders know that if any idea were to ”break free” from its Kremlin handlers and unite the masses under its banner, it could completely obliterate the political system as it now exists.
Putin’s Russia has no appealing ideology, such as communism, which helped the Soviet Union to survive for 74 years, notes Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies:
It has the profile of a Third World country, exporting primary goods and importing secondary and tertiary goods. Russia has already had four successful revolutions since 1917….Having lost 50 percent of its population in 1991, Russia has a $2 trillion economy, barely 14% the size of the American economy… Russia remains a kleptocratic authoritarian society without an independent judiciary, press freedom, or transition to democracy.
And yet, there is little likelihood that Putin will fold because he retains some key assets, Adelman adds:
Putin remains at a stunning 80% approval rating in Russia. …Russia, with one of the five permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, has a large-scale arsenal of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, equal to that of the United States. Russia spends $70b. on the military which, despite problems, remains the No. 3 military in the world. It has a reserve fund of nearly $90b. With almost a million scientists, technicians and engineers, Russia can place well in global defense technology.RTWT
Arguments that Putin’s regime represents a form of continuity with Russia’s cultural traditions, that it has a cultural DNA that transcends revolutions, or that this continuity works through national character do not withstand scrutiny, says Alexander Etkind, a professor of history at the European University Institute in Florence. Empires come and go, as do their traditions, he writes for Project Syndicate:
For every expansionist Czar, or commissar, from Catherine II to Putin, there have been leaders prepared to retreat. …The belief that Russians desire an authoritarian leader is also misplaced. To be sure, as 2015 begins, Putin’s approval ratings remain high (though they are no more reliable an indicator than Russian budget projections, political pronouncements, or gas deliveries). But, even if the polls are accurate, his popularity is largely irrelevant: dictators do not rule through a social contract, and neither his position nor his legitimacy derives from popular appeal.
Although anti-Americanism has become the centerpiece of Putin’s policies, his newest cultural offensive is targeting the European Union and the Head of its Permanent Mission to Russia, notes Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies:
In mid-January the International Department of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science sent out a special letter to the country’s universities, asking to be notified about planned events involving staff members of the EU Mission to Russia.
Singled out for criticism was Ambassador Vygaudas Ušackas, the EU Mission Head in Russia. Under his leadership the EU has been holding a variety of public meetings called “European Schools” around the country, many of them at universities. Inevitably, uncomfortable topics like Ukraine have come up for discussion.