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Editor’s Note: We commend Andre Kolesnikov for this excellent analysis and recommend that our readers make it today’s MUST READ.
By Andre Kolesnikov, Carnegie – Moscow Center, Sep 9, 2015
The first half of 2015 demystified several key characteristics of the Russian regime. While the Kremlin continues to score plenty of tactical victories in the political sphere, which help sustain President Vladimir Putin’s sky-high popularity, the regime has demonstrated no ability to think strategically—let alone to establish clear, achievable goals or to offer a model of what the future should look like. The lack of strategic thinking stems from the elites’ desire to preserve their own power and the whims of an authoritarian political system that imitates democratic niceties while using its sprawling propaganda apparatus to stoke aggressive nationalism.
After the start of the war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, a great many things that had previously been prohibited in Russia received an official blessing. Now that the boundaries of what’s permissible have expanded—for example, a covert war against a neighboring country has been repackaged as a defensive and just conflict—some of the dark pages in Russia’s history are being reevaluated. Angry, hostile language has become the norm in political discourse.
Instead of unifying Russia, the war has effectively split the nation into two camps: the loyal ones and the unpatriotic ones, or those who are happy abiding by the new rules of normative behavior and those who refuse to toe the party line.
…the new social contract of “Crimea in exchange for freedom” is likely to remain in effect and, for the time being at least, help the regime absorb the negative impact of Russia’s deteriorating socioeconomic conditions. But there will come a time when the regime will have to offer the public something new, not the well-worn Crimea card. An economic miracle is definitely not one of the options. Nor can Russia seriously contemplate fighting a war with the West, especially a large-scale one, due to its limited resources. The regime may indulge in symbolic steps, such as a new, feel-good The Arctic Is Ours campaign. But the benefits of such ploys will likely wear off rather quickly. The Russian leadership is slowly gearing up for another jog along the Möbius strip, which is bound to end at a strategic impasse.
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