Out of Sight – What’s happening in Russia? – Part III

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Russia is not a linear country. The modernization took place in forced stages. And the tsarist background has never been completely erased. This means that the smartest minds hardly know how to adapt to the situation.

(Dimitrij Volčič, Italian politician and journalist)

Welcome back to Russia, my friends

In this last article (the usual “last” is related to the issue) we will look at some other recent events concerning the Russian Federation and what is happening inside it and which, due to other events, has passed on the sly.

In the two previous articles we have analyzed the events related to the SARS-CoV2 Pandemic, and how this has openly highlighted the economic and institutional weaknesses of Russia built by Vladimir Putin: in fact, what is most noticeable if you look at the general media, is the sudden disappearance of Russia (except for the question concerning the elusive Sputnik V vaccine), which until recently was concentrated on a broad global propaganda operation, the main purpose of which was, and still is , to reconstruct the role of Russia as a great power, and therefore as an alternative point of reference to the United States and Europe, but also to China, at least in terms of “image”.

Yes, the image of Russia. This may seem strange to you, at first glance, but I can assure you that the main problem in the head of the Russian elites is precisely this: what an image of themselves Russia shows, and it is applicable in every field and every event that has involved the post-sovietic period. The topic is quite long and complex, so for now I ask you to keep this concept in mind, further explanations will be the subject of specific treatment. If we want, we could take up the famous quote from “The Art of War”:

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

(Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Here, the Russian government thinks more or less in these terms, replacing “weak” with “well-disposed”. If we look at the latest events through this lens, everything should appear much clearer. I said that Russia has disappeared from the media, but this is only partially correct: on the one hand, barring sensational events, the West is also focused on how to deal with the Pandemic, and it is natural (at least according to the media logic) that everything else goes into the background, but it is equally true that the Russian leaders quickly took advantage of the situation to “disappear” and regulate internal issues away from prying eyes. Even at times when, in a “normal” situation (think just a couple of years ago), we would have had a pounding wave of propaganda about Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, US elections, etc.

And instead nothing, or almost.

To give you another very recent example, you can read the excellent article by Professor Vladislav Inozemtsev, published by the Institute of Modern Russia. It deals with a complex issue, namely that of the recently begun reform of the “Development Institutions”, but, aside from the economic-administrative question, even Professor Inozemtsev can only conclude with the idea that the whole process is substantially a big facade maneuver, aimed much more at settling accounts within the Russian power groups and at “redistributing” the management of the country’s economic flows among them, than at implementing a serious economic reform project, to facing a post-pandemic future.

Exactly as happened for the Management of the Pandemic and the apparent concession of autonomy to the Regions (which in the meantime has degenerated into an increasingly clear discontent, with mass protests especially in the Trans-Uralic regions), here too we are faced with a marketing operation: we want to sell a “reform” that will cancel a series of useless and unproductive state entities, but which in reality serves to redistribute roles, powers and political and economic influence.

As has already happened (think of Vladimir Putin himself, or his eternal second Dimitry Mevdeved) to deal with the umpteenth reform package is a political figure apparently jumped out of nowhere: the new Prime Minister Mikhail Vladimirovič Mišustin. A man who has moved within the Russian administration since the Yeltsin period (in August 1998 his first appointment, that of deputy director of the State Tax Service) and who now suddenly finds himself in the center of the scene, with soaring popularity skyrocketing (thanks above all to the provision of numerous subsidies to economies particularly affected by the pandemic), second only to that of President Putin.

He, as mentioned, will have to deal with this umpteenth attempt at “reorganization” which has very little to do with economy: it is no coincidence that, a character who remained for decades in the background, began to treat his image in an almost maniacal way, and to suddenly see a “circle” of loyalists born around him, of which all obviously belong those characters involved in the restructuring of these para-state apparatuses: when the economy flounders, cuts are necessary (even if, as mentioned, only on the facade) and everyone looks for their own safe place on a lifeboat that gets more and more crowded.

It is no coincidence that, alongside him in this enterprise, there is Dmitriy Cherhyshenko, the “media manager” who owes his fame to the creation of the aggressive advertising of the MMM Company, which, for those who don’t know, was a gigantic “Ponzi Scheme” created during the economic reform of the Yeltsin Era, which reduced thousands of savers to misery, deceived by the promise of easy earnings and decidedly unable to understand what they were doing (it was the early 90s, russians had just left the Soviet system). A warranty.

Moscow, Bolotnaya Square, May 6, 2015: A single-person picket is held by the Russian journalist Alexander Ryklin who holds a poster that reads: “At this place, on May 6, 2012, police attacked a peaceful demonstration.” The picket lasted only a few moments, as Ryklin was immediately detained by the police. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In all this, the only thing that seems to have concrete implications is the implementation of an increasingly restrictive legislation regarding the right of assembly, guaranteed de jure by article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation but de facto severely limited by a huge machine bureaucratic, which poses a legislative barrier at both federal and local levels. For years now this has been the way that the Russian authorities have had to block any type of demonstration: a small error in filling out the myriad of paperwork required, officially for the “safety of citizens”, is enough to be denied a constitutionally sanctioned right. In chronological order, the latest proposal presented to the Duma by the Russia Unity party is to request bank information from those organizing demonstrations, which are feared “financed by people hostile to the country, such as George Soros or Hillary Clinton”.

Obviously inaccurate or incomplete information (or perhaps simply not available, as in the case of flash mobs or spontaneous demonstrations) will lead to the cancellation of the manivestation, or its brutal dispersion by the riot squads. The perfect combination of propaganda and limitation of the legal space for protest, as authorities find more ways to limit when, where, and how people can voice their demands. 

In conclusion, we could say that this was yet another period of missed opportunities to seriously reform the Russian Federation, whose government instead preferred to consolidate its position, take the opportunity to eliminate some “ballast” and settle the accounts within the different factions, still kept in balance by the figure of the President. It is my opinion that this attempt to disappear from the spotlight will soon show its dangerous consequences in the not too distant future.

Thank you for reading this series of writings, as usual, for any questions or clarifications, do not hesitate to contact me.

Nay, come, let’s go together.

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