07/07/2017, 15.01
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The future of Putin and Putinism

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Vladimir Putin has been in office for almost 20 years. In all likelihood, next year he will once again emerge victorious in the presidential election. Navalnyj's opposition cannot win, but reveals the dissatisfaction of young people. With Putin, the Russian government is slipping from a "corporatistic" system to a sort of "Sultanism", similar to Erdogan's in Turkey. The Orthodox Church is taking its distance.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - In a recent Altaj Mountains Forum in Barnaul, Siberia (17-18 June), political scientists questioned the possible scenarios of Russia over the next twenty years. This is because in recent years the Russian political system has been put to the test by events and issues that question stability and future prospects. This is even more urgent because the Putinian power is set to mark twenty years (which began in 1999), and in all likelihood Vladimir Putin will again be elected to power in 2018 (formally the fourth time, the so-called Putin 4.0).

Organized by the Russian section of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, the conference focused on "Russia's development paths in the context of international tensions", and the reflections proposed at that venue have been discussed on various platforms and media. The starting point is the change in power of the Russian power system, which until 2014 could be termed "corporatist" and post-Soviet, while today it seems to take the form of "Sultanism", imitating Erdogan’s Turkey. In other words, it can be said that from continuity with the Soviet Politburo, the Putin regime seems to regress to a resemblance with the court of the pre-revolutionary tsars. The leader appears increasingly farther distant from his subordinates and collaborators, in search of more immediate and populist forms of consensus.

Two possible scenarios would appear to be forming: to open up economic reforms that will allow Russia to exit from the current crisis - and this requires a change in the political system, opening to a more real democracy, ending contrasts with the West; Or what seems to be the ongoing project, emphasis on Russia's isolationism, suppressing all forms of dissent.

Putin's regime increasingly resembles a Tsarist "autocracy," as it is increasingly dependent on other political and social elites, and is increasingly relying on personal popular consent. Moreover, a typical feature of absolutism is the continuing violation of the same laws and rules approved by the regime, depending on what is most convenient. In this sense we see Putin's attempt is to consolidate his power, above any reform or legislative authority. This perspective is increasingly risky, not so much because of the very marginal opposition, but because of the need to sustain and revitalize his popularity with continued victories and demonstrations of strength against everything and everyone, given the progressive loss of credibility of the figure of "Tsar" in the eyes of the people and of the various social and economic bodies. After exaggerating the Crimea's annexation in 2014, Putin's star in recent times has begun to fade.

The opposition “on the streets” organized by Aleksej Naval'nyj, who is especially capable of mobilizing the youngest, is not significant from the point of view of the real possibilities of political change but lays bare the weakness of the motivations that led to the president to the height of consensus, which seems far less profound than the official propaganda and the court's servility in all its components. A question then arises: Can Putin endure an electoral round, which, without questioning his re-election, exposes him to criticisms and doubts about the "sacred" role he embodies? According to some experts, this uncertainty might push the president to even retire: for he does not need victory, but consecration.

To avoid questioning, Putin would have two options: the most common one, to invent an opposition candidate at his own discretion (as were the various Zjuganov, Zhirinovskij and others to date), or to raise the challenge by allowing for a real and fair plebiscite, choosing a vibrant goal for an even bigger Russia. Only at this point no "shining" and reassuring goal seems to be available. Inevitably, it would proclaim other forms of war and conquest, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. And even the autocrats may not have the courage to risk a new Afghanistan, the land where Soviet power ended.

Meanwhile, faced with the corruption charges laid against members of his (which for the time being have not yet directly involved him), Putin is attempting to revive Russia's "moral superiority" card, using himself as the model. In this, the president aims to exploit the support and shared sentiments with the Orthodox Church, which however appears ready to distance itself from his excesses of personalization and chauvinism. Patriarch Kirill, who had shown little enthusiasm about the Crimean annexation, sought rather to reiterate the moral superiority of the Church to any other institution in the country: the harsh debate over the return of the St. Isaac cathedral in St. Petersburg is symbolic. Putin has reiterated that it is a state property, given that when it built the Tsar was was head of the Church. The president has recently approached even the Old-Believing Schismatic Church, who for almost 500 years have accused the Patriarch of betrayal of the true Russian Orthodoxy.

In a meeting last June 21 with teachers, Putin fell into a sort of revealing lapus, claiming that "education to patriotism is a priority over the transmission of knowledge: we have no other and cannot have any other unifying ideal, which is not patriotism. This is our national ideal. " The schools themselves are very much in favor of the formation of a paramilitary association for children and young people, the Junarmija (Youth Forces), as the old communist pioneers have now come to an end in the renowned, too ideologically motivated, scouting associations. For the elevation of moral dignity, Putin has also presented a bill to the Duma that bans swearing and vulgar expressions in public and at home. Will the beautiful words, and the infantry bayonets, be enough to glorify the sultan?

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