When nastiness seems to make a kind of sense…

I’ve filed a column for Russia! magazine that I hope will be up there soon, but the gist is that, however spiteful and devoid of legal rationale, there is a certain vicious logic to the Navalny sentencing. Let me just throw one paragraph up here. In the long run, Putinism is dying; in the short term, there will be a flurry of public and international dismay, but…

So it’s the medium term that is up for grabs and here, however much it distresses my liberal soul to admit it, the Kremlin was probably right to take the maximalist approach. Lenin, that arch pragmatist and, if they but realized it, perhaps the godfather of modern political technologists, understood that a basic pre-requisite for any revolution is a critical absence of will on the part of the elite. In other words, revolutionaries do not wrestle power away from the elites; they take it from the elite’s numbed fingers when it is unable or unwilling to resist. Unpleasant regimes tend not to fall so long as they stay unpleasant but also, and this is crucial, able to maintain control of the elite and the apparatus of coercion. Whatever one may say about the effect of foreign vacillation, the survival of Assad’s Syria is precisely because he has will, enough of the elite and violence on his side. It is unlikely to sustain him for ever—although as Ramzan Kadyrov proved, if you can truly grind down the public’s will to resist, then you win—but it means he has lasted longer than many dictators who tried to reform and conciliate.

Of course, what makes sense in the short- or medium-term, does not in the longer-term. The more the Kremlin piles on the pressure now, the more unpleasant and potentially explosive the endgame. In short, Putin may be buying a little more time now, for a lot more grief further down the line.

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  1. Totally agree with your sentiments. I read some of the blog entries at the Russia.ru site after the Navalny sentencing and most of them applauded the court’s decision, gleeful that this ‘Yale-agent’ received a sharp kick in the teeth. As long as Putin and company control the major airwaves they have nothing to fear.

    Then again, who can predict Russian history? This might be the spark that enflames other grievances within Russian society.

  2. Interestng as this political court ruling may seem, and indeed also the political games in russia at the moment, I think one should keep ones eyes on a far more telling fact and the real motor of change in russia: Russia is a dead shell, with nothing to offer anyone at all. History has shown that just as in society as among nations If you have nothing to all to the common cause, your value is nil. Barack Obama once described russia as “a country that does not MAKE anything”. And he is right. And you canot build a lasting empire on emptiness. When the russians discover this empty shell, vigorously defended by a decrepid ruler with paranoid leanings, unable to utter two true words in succession, things might start to change in russia. Russia has to pay the same price as any other nation to deserve respect and true democracy. And in truth, they have a very long road to walk. And THIS time without a naïve West to assist.


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