Ukrainian Pundit Pessimistic About Impact Of Cosmetic Government Changes In Russia

Fuad Muxtarlı Interview 29 January 2020
Ukrainian Pundit Pessimistic About Impact Of Cosmetic Government Changes In Russia

Ukrainian pundit Aleksey Poltorakov in an interview with Yenicag news agency weighed pros and cons of the recent changes of the Russian government and described the changes as cosmetic. In view of topicality of issues the pundit commented on, Strati think tank translated the interview into English and presented to the attention of its readers keen on developments in the post-Soviet nations.

[Question] In almost all countries of the former USSR, structural reforms are underway, if you can call them so. Castling is taking place, officials are changing their offices, presidents who have ruled more than normal receive new titles and “spiritual” titles, but nothing essentially changes that the peoples of these countries understand very well. In your opinion, what is the purpose of such a political performance?

[Poltorakov] Similar events in the post-Soviet space can be described primarily in terms of “democratic transit”, a manifesto of which can be considered the sensational work of Francis Fukuyama “The End of History”. However, these general processes that unfairly claim globality in relation to a specific region and a particular country, of course, have their own specifics. As it seems, the key aspect of this specificity in the post-Soviet space is a kind of “cargo cult” of democracy.

Its essence is that the “internal” democratic values and processes in most cases are replaced by external institutions and the notorious “window dressing”. The most striking example is the “election without choice” - the recent presidential campaign in Russia, held in the format of “sovereign democracy” (V. Surkov).

In Ukraine, this phenomenon has a slightly different, deeper specificity - for example, when the number of approved “NATO standards” is an indicator of successes in the military-defense sphere. Undoubtedly, in terms of real, value-based “democratic transit”, Ukraine has gone through structural reforms much deeper and more seriously. An additional paradox is that the key external factor in Ukraine’s “democratic transit” was primarily the challenges and threats that are associated with the ambitious realities of Russia's “sovereign democracy” - great-power chauvinism, “Russian world”, “victory”, etc.

[Question] What will change in Russia after these cosmetic changes, primarily in the socio-economic sphere?

[Poltorakov] Against the backdrop of truly cosmetic changes in the Russian authoritarian regime, in the socio-economic sphere, Russia is quietly and steadily slipping into the classical regime of "stagnation", which largely resembles the situation of the 1970-80s. Only now is the situation further aggravated by ambiguous external contexts - primarily geoeconomic ones. A striking and rather characteristic factor, although not the most fundamental one in its deepest essence, is Russia's dependence on the global situation in the global energy market, primarily oil and gas.

Occupying a leading position in the extraction of these resources in the world, Moscow does not invest mega-profits in promising, high-tech industries - the conditional "petrodollars" are deposited on the accounts of the members of the Lake cooperative and those close to them. Some, and not very large, percent goes to the notorious "defense industry", and "the rest of the balance" - to the "social network". At the same time, Moscow should also regularly “feed” regimes loyal to the Kremlin (DPR with LPR, Abkhazia and Ossetia, etc.) - and all of them, almost to the point of selection, are thoroughly corrupt, not at all self-sufficient and politically unprofitable, nor economically.

[Question] Often, biased materials appear in the media about the struggle for influence on state policy between various financial groups. In Russia, they were divided into two parts: fuel and energy and military-industrial. How real are such conspiratorial theories? If there is some truth in these statements, then which of these financial groups is the most influential in Russia?
[Poltorakov] The “theory of elites” articulated by the issue is, indeed, a convenient and promising tool for understanding the processes taking place at a high level of the Russian power struggle. However, one should not forget that any division of elites into groups, clans, etc. - is largely conditional, approximate.

In Russia, particularly, the fuel and energy and military-industrial elites are not so much opposing parties - they are two sides of the same phenomenon - the struggle to “cut” the relatively large and relatively uncontrolled Russian budget, participate in profitable corruption schemes and rebuild them to yourself, for your interests and projects.

Competition is more likely to be operational-tactical in nature - for specific budget lines and budget projects. Then, both the general strategic vision and the concrete development of the socio-economic sphere are “out of the question” of the contradictions.

[Question] Negotiations and consultations between Tashkent and Moscow regarding the entry of Uzbekistan into the EAEU did not lead to anything, and President Mirziyoyev clearly stated that they would not join this union and would remain observers. How do you see the future of this bloc?

[Poltorakov] If you try to look at the EurAsEC in the geo-economic focus of goals and values, then in many ways this artificial unification has never been self-sufficient. After all, it was originally declared as a mechanism for collective adaptation to WTO standards. However, the realities of the development of countries such as Kyrgyzstan, the first of the CIS countries to join the WTO, on the one hand, and Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, which have chosen the EU as the geoeconomic “standard”, on the other, show that the future of these blocs is clearly ambiguous and rather doubtful. In many ways, the EurAsEC is reminiscent of the “European Free Trade Association” (EFTA), of which only a few relevant experts are aware of the real activities.

[Question] The issue of the Crimea and Donbass is also hanging in the air, you can say. No negotiations will help, which every day becomes clear to everyone. Neither Ukraine will turn off the chosen path, nor will Russia leave the occupied territories of the countries of the former union. This is not only about Crimea and Donbass, you can add Karabakh, Abkhazia, Ossetia, Transnistria, the Syrian military company, now Libya, etc. It’s just interesting how Russia's strength is enough to further oppress entire countries and peoples? When will the end of this geopolitical aggression and lawlessness of Moscow come?

[Poltorakov] In order to really deal with the serious geostrategic problem of determining the realities and prospects of the role and place of Russia in the world, it is necessary first of all to “bracket” some emotional and evaluative aspects of approaches to the situation. By the way, it was precisely such an emotional appraisal of the realities of recent decades that was characteristic of the Kremlin's approaches to determining its global positions.

Moscow believed and still believes that its position is at least “underestimated” by the international community, and the Kremlin is trying, including with its vigorous actions “declare itself” as a fundamentally significant global player that cannot be ignored in resolving serious international issues, and especially in the post-Soviet space and in regions adjacent to it.

However, such defiantly demonstrative ambitiousness generated by supposedly "underestimation" turns out to be that in Russia they see not so much the carrier of the "solution to the problem" as the "problem maker". Recall the developments of the recently mentioned Francis Fukuyama. In the shadow of his rather deep and interesting work on the “End of history”, which received great resonance, there remained an even deeper, but because of this less “interesting” work, “trust”. Trust, the researcher argues, is a fundamentally significant social capital, a factor in the socio-economic stability of society and the economic and social development of the state. And on an international scale, Russia has already lost the minimum necessary “credit of trust”. A fresh characteristic example is at least Russian-Turkish relations, fundamentally corrupt by Russia's refusal to properly comply with the technical and technological conditions of the S-400 contract.

Translated and edited by Fuad Muxtar-Aqbabali, Strati