'Successful' Russia Sanctions Would be West's Worst Nightmare (Gazeta, Russia)
"The idea that the harm done by sanctions would cause aggrieved
members of the elite to start a mutiny behind their leader's back, plunge in
the knife and depose the culprit over their losses, could arise only from the
rational Western mind. Even without considering the lack of alternatives, the
current ruling class will stand with Putin to the end, not so much out of fear
of him, but for fear of the mob. In the West, where questions of the moment
seem so pressing, no one seems to have considered any of this.After several years, Europe and the West may
end up dealing with a country that is so firmly in the throes of anti-American
and anti-Western sentiment that the USSR will seem like a close ally in
The logic of those who initiated tightening
sanctions against Russia is simple. What they say aloud goes something like
this: the sanctions will hit Putin and his entourage, they will be
disadvantageous and damage profits, and Putin and his allies will retreat (when
and how hasn't been answered in this scenario). What they don't mention aloud, of
course, is the implication that sanctions will hit the Russian economy as a
whole, both political and business elites and inevitably average people as
well. As a result, a wave of popular anger will supposedly emerge, sweeping
away the current regime which has become quite objectionable to the West, after
while everyone will be happy.
If they are truly serious about
eliciting a wave of "people's anger," then they are terribly out of
touch with our people. As for their understanding of the elites (the term in
this case is better with the prefix "so called"), I would suggest that
their delusion is no less profound.
As for unity between the "party
(power) and the people," if anything, the situation now might be called complete
As this dangerous escalation of events
continues, and Ukraine slips further in the direction of full-scale war, the ratings
of the Russian president rise further. This is quite unique in modern politics,
and to the Western mentality quite incomprehensible, but after effectively 14
years with Putin running the country, his popularity has never been higher.
According to a recent Gallup poll (taken
before the downed Boeing), Russians pronounced themselves satisfied in every
common marker used by sociologists. That was not only the case for Putin, but the
government of Medvedev, which had approval ratings of 64 percent. They are
satisfied with level of personal freedom and the state of the economy, even as
it teeters between stagnation and recession. Even the current reforms to patch
holes in the electoral system are approved by greater numbers than ever
before, (around 40 percent). Just a year ago, Putin's approval rating was only around
30 percent. Now it's 83 percent, which still isn't as high as the traditional
90 percent that Nazarbayev receives in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev's
90 percent rating remains stable, while our 83 percent is the result of previous
drops and subsequent rises, which looks much more active and believable.
Can even the most severe sanctions
divide the Russian ruling class, as well as undermine Putin's support among
The idea that the harm done by sanctions
would cause aggrieved members of the elite to start a mutiny behind their
leader's back, plunge in the knife and depose the culprit over their losses, could
arise only from the rational Western mind. Logic like this might apply to regimes
based on a different mentality, but in Russia there are several existing
conditions that prevent such eventualities.
1. Any political opposition to the
regime is not only marginalized in the eyes of the man on the street, but
exists in a state of ideological and organizational paralysis.
2. There has been a steady
simplification of social and political life against the backdrop in recent
years of a decline in education, culture, and even technological knowledge,
which has led to more primitive ideological discourse (reducing it to
the level of a pathetic talk show). This has actually blocked the appearance of
all sorts of information sources or the emergence of a
intellectual elite, especially one based on alternative notions of power.
Therefore, there is no "other,"
"substitute," or "alternative" elite, either
political, intellectual, or even technocratic, in today's Russia, that
has the potential of coming out of nowhere and taking power. There is quite
simply a lack of adequately educated and competent human resources in tune with
the needs of the moment.
In this regard, any suggestion of the
need to "rotate" the elite or recruit new people, i.e.: bright young minds, souls and thinkers, is naïve and only
good for making patriotic statements. A rotation of power would mean bringing Dugin-inspired
militants, or ignorant urban madmen to power.
It wouldn't be a rotation of the elite,
but a succession of anti-elite coup d'etats, a Russian
Cultural Revolution (in the Maoist sense of the term), and as a result, technology
and civilization in the country would quickly begin to degrade.
Even without considering the lack of
alternatives, the current ruling class will stand with Putin to the end, not so
much out of fear of him, but for fear of the mob. In the West, where questions
of the moment seem so pressing, no one seems to have considered any of this.
There is neither the strength, nor the guts,
nor the brains, nor is there the slightest hope, of an opposition that would
garner the slightest level of public support.
Finally and most importantly, centrally
organized regimes like we have in Russia have an extraordinary capacity to mobilize
and redirect resources and financial flows, even when they become scarce under
the impact of sanctions. Those loyal to the regime have an advantage in such
cases, and are the first have losses incurred by the West offset. All at the
expense of the budget, of course. The country has the resources to do this for
a long to come to come.
Experience from other authoritarian
regimes shows that the ruling elite are the last to suffer from the impact of
All of this is contrary to what Western
analysts predict. In this sense, Western sanctions are nothing more than a
gesture to voters who live within the context of a simplified picture of the
world, thanks to the power of mass media and their own intentions to "punish
the bad guy" for disobedience. It is just another form of populism which
today governs the structure of world politics.
Contrary to what we've seen, for
example, in Iran, in Russia, the threat of sanctions and outside pressure is
unlikely to create any new cohesion between the leadership and the masses. The chasm
between them will continue to be great. The first are unlikely to engage in
self-sacrifice or restraint (in terms of what is referred to as "conspicuous
consumption") for the sake of solidarity with the people. The latter will
suffer in the traditional fashion, and the increasingly stark social divide in will
become an even more evident reality of Russian life. Noblemen and serfs - this
is how it always has been and always will be.
As for the people, they are always
prepared to deal with emergencies. Historically, Russians citizens are used to
living under siege. Although the suffering of a few Russian oligarchs will of
course be received with malicious glee, in general, external pressure on the
regime will result in greater consolidation of the nation to deal with the foreign
As for Iran, despite their obvious
economic difficulties, anger hasn't turned the people against the state (although
it is true that former President Ahmadinejad goes to work by bus and hasn't
profited from his post in any way, our people have more modest expectations of
our leaders - they're inured to displays of wealth). Even now, after several
years of tough sanctions, the Iranian ruling class is in no hurry to capitulate
on the most fundamental issue - their nuclear program. They continue to haggle in
an attempt to play on the growing contradictions between Washington and Moscow –
and the people support them in this.
In Russia, as trends in the evolution of
public opinion indicate, the same is likely to happen. As greater pressure is applied
(especially now, in an atmosphere of indignation over the downed Malaysian airliner),
Putin's ratings rise - along with anti-Western sentiment.
After several years, Europe and the West
may end up dealing with a country that is so firmly in the throes of anti-American
and anti-Western sentiment that the USSR will seem like a dear friend by comparison.
In this case, the consciousness of the
masses will narrow, and even without excessive propaganda, it will be easier to
accept what's happening by fitting it into the already-existing picture of the
world in which everyone is against us.
Equally shortsighted is a strategy to stifle
and ultimately overthrow Vladimir Putin (I assume that this option is regarded
as realistic and desirable for some American experts and political circles). If
you overthrow it, what would the result be? A debacle with
nuclear weapons in the hands of some Fascist hooligan in the Kremlin, who will
make even the current disorder in Ukraine seem boring by comparison.
Of course, direct comparisons of Iraq or
Libya to the Russian case are unlikely to be appropriate, but it's worth noting
how the toppling of authoritarian leaders in the in the context of a scorched
political landscape and the absence of any developed democratic culture has led
to the collapse of both states. Yugoslavia is the exception that proves the
rule: the shards of the country were simply integrated into the common European
space, albeit with great difficulty. In Russia, there is no threat of such a prospect.
There is an alternative to all this political
hysteria: instead of tightening sanctions and trying to strangle the Russian
regime (without any coherent strategy for the future) we must urgently find a
compromise on the Ukrainian question, while recognizing that Russia and her
interests cannot be pushed aside and left to suffer a humiliating defeat. For
this is an outcome that would be impossible to live with.