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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
August 15, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin’s Latest Personnel Changes Make a Stable Long-Term Dictatorship More Likely, Pastukhov Says
Staunton, VA, August 16, 2016 - The retirement of Sergey Ivanov as head of the Presidential administration, whatever the proximate causes, “symbolizes a change in eras of the Putin administration,” from one of a kind of collective leadership to a one-man dictatorship that is likely to last a long time, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

Ivanov’s departure, the St. Antony’s College historian says, is “not an isolated event” but rather part of “a general tectonic shift in the structures of Russian power and of a change in the general balance of forces” which for more than a decade had seemed unlikely to ever change.

The common feature of Ivanov’s removal and that of many others near the Kremlin has been Putin’s installation of “servants in place of friends … In place of the post-communist boyars has come the post-communist nomenklatura nobility, the serving class of the 21st century.”

With Ivanov’s ouster – and he was one of the pillars of the old system – “the dam is broken and the flood of change will not stop,” Pastukhov says, noting that already four years ago, he predicted that “in order to survive, Putin must become a Stalin; that is, he must change the mechanism of power in a cardinal way. Today one can speak about this as a fait accompli”.

“The era of the collective rule of Putin’s friends is coming to an end,” he continues. Russia will not be ruled not by a prince and his entourage but by a tsar and his slaves. There won’t be “an informal Politburo.” Instead, there will be “’evenings in secret’” with outcomes unpredictable for all their participants save one.

In short, the system will be changed just as it was when Stalin got rid of the old Bolsheviks and brought in the Bulganins and Malenkovs to do his bidding. One can hope, Pastukhov says, that Putin won’t use the same techniques Stalin did to do that; but it is clear that he is moving in the same direction as far as cadres policy is concerned.

“However paradoxical it may seem,” the St. Antony’s scholar says, “what is taking place is promoting the strengthening of the regime: the dictatorship is becoming more ‘regular’ and more subordinate to certain formal internal algorithms.” There will be little room for “partisan warfare” in the entourage because the new men will not be an entourage; they will be servants.

The new men, Pastukhov points out, “grew up within the bureaucratic hierarchy and were not implanted in it from the outside. They are more ascetic and therefore cheaper to keep, something that is not unimportant under crisis conditions.” They will be satisfied with apartments in Moscow highrises; they won’t expect villas.

In short, “the face of the Russian powers that be quite soon will become unrecognizable,” he argues, but its new face will bear “familiar aspects of the Soviet nomenklatura matrix as formed by ‘the father of the peoples,’” Stalin.

According to Pastukhov, the current crisis was the catalyzer of these changes; but the changes themselves show that the regime is much more capable of survival than many of its opponents think. It has come up with “adaptive mechanisms” on its own which allow it to engage more effectively in crisis management.

This “new political system is being developed under conditions of a more severe reality of Russia, one eternally fighting and eternally mobilized for struggle with a hostile environment living not so much with abundance but with a deficit of resources.” Those who don’t understand what is coming will pay a high price, but hopefully not of their lives as such.

Pastukhov argues that “the newly rebuilt power structure can have a quite large reserve of stability and withstand further testing,” including a deepening of the economic crisis and “even war.” Whether Putin will be able to move entirely to such a new system, of course, still remains an open question.

That is because doing so is quite difficult “in the absence of a systemic ideology, in place of which the Kremlin still uses the franchise of ‘Russian Eurasianism.’ But if all the same this intention is realized, then the dictatorship in Russia will be a long one.”

Of course, if one takes a longer view, other possibilities emerge. “Out of the storms of 1937,” Pastukhvo says, “emerged not only Bulganin and Malenkov but also Khrushchev who in part consciously but more unconsciously accepted for himself the role of the gravedigger of the system by starting the thaw.”

However, that took a long time. One can’t stop the seasons; but “sometimes winter lasts longer” than one expects.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Young People Aren’t as Blindly Patriotic as Many Think, Sociologist Says

Staunton, VA, August 16, 2016 - The claims of officials and the results of some polls notwithstanding, Elena Omelchenko of the Center for Youth Research at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg says that it is “a myth” that young Russians are becoming more patriotic at least in the militaristic sense the Kremlin seeks to promote.

Having conducted research on patriotism in Russia for more than a decade, Omelchenko says that in the last three years, the government has promoted a shift in the meaning of patriotism from “love to one’s small motherland” to “an obligation” to be willing to sacrifice oneself for the state.

In the wake of the annexation of Crimea, that effort appeared to have achieved its goals, she says; but very quickly, and especially among the young, there has been a shift in “attitudes toward [such] hurrah-patriotism,” a shift that polls alone seldom capture but that is nonetheless very important.

Young people felt “a certain disappointment” that the Crimean events did not lead to more; but because they did not want to isolate themselves from society, Omelchenko says, they have continued to tell pollsters that they are patriotic in Putin’s sense. “This is a myth,” as all “serious” investigators of the issue know.

It must be remembered that young people are “not a monolith … On the one hand, we see in society a growth of enthusiasm about military service” but that reflects not only patriotic feelings but also the difficulties of finding jobs in today’s economy. And on the other, young people in the capitals are far more cynical than are those in the villages.

Students in the major cities “also talk about the need to fight for the motherland,” she says; “but this is more sloganeering, a rhetorical move, behind which a real willingness to do so does not always stand.” One reason for that, Omelchenko continues, is that patriotism without a vision of the future is unlikely to be strong.

Many in the Kremlin confuse things: they see people being proud of Russia as meaning that they are satisfied with conditions in it; and they believe that the negative attitudes about the West that polls show reflect the real state of affairs.

In fact, Omelchenko says, young people have a divided view about the West. For them, “there exist as it were two parallel worlds. They can experience definite negative feelings for example toward America but at the same time watch with pleasure American films” and they can express homophobic attitudes collectively but have friends who are gay.

Criticism of the West, she suggests, is for many such young Russians “simply a game,” one that recalls the double think characteristic of Soviet times when people knew what declarations they had to make but had their own views which more often than not were the basis of their personal activity.

Young Russians do not connect patriotism and love for the motherland with state policy. Instead, such people “often respond to us in interviews that ‘I love Russia but I hate the state.’” That is part and parcel of their low level of trust in state institutions. At the same time, their trust in Putin. “That is a separate phenomenon,” the sociologist says.

In addition to introducing confusion in the thinking of the elites, promoting patriotism of the imperial and militarist kind entails certain real dangers, including “a high level of xenophobia.” In a multi-national state and an interconnected world, such attitudes are dangerous and can lead to violence at home or war abroad.

Omelchenko says in conclusion that she is especially worried that the new patriotic education effort will lead to the division of the nation into “patriots and non-patriots or even more true patriots and untrue ones. In Soviet times, this led to a situation in which people could go to prison for a lack of patriotism. [And] we know what that led to.”