By Paul Goble
Because neither the elites nor the population supported Prigozhin and because the Wagner PMC leader was explicit in not opposing Putin, Mikhail Turchenko says, “Putin’s dictatorship is now not threatened by either a coup or a protest.” And unless NATO becomes directly involved, he is not necessarily at risk even in the event of a defeat in Ukraine.
The St. Petersburg political scientist, now at Indiana University, says the Ukraine war does introduce an element of uncertainty but “even an outcome [of that conflict] which is negative for the Kremlin will not necessarily lead to the collapse of the regime” (ridl.io/ru/traektorii-putinskogo-rezhima-i-vyzovy-oppozitsii/).
The Prigozhin affair has shown that the elites recognize that they are better off with Putin than they would be if they took the risk of mobilizing against him. And that means that any threats to Putin “can come only from Russian citizens.” Up to now, Putin has used the promotion of economic well-being, repression and propaganda to shore up his support there.
According to Turchenko, “deteriorating living conditions can topple the equilibrium within the country, elevating the costs of maintaining the status quo above the costs of protest. But the people need to be politicized, and this is the task of the Russian opposition” which to be successful must avoid conflicts in order to be taken seriously.
Putin is not about to end the war in Ukraine; and if he is able to avoid a direct war with NATO, he is “likely to retain power until his natural death,” the political scientist says. And following that, there will not necessarily be any change in the nature of the regime in Moscow which will remain authoritarian.
“The main positions inside the country will continue to be held by the siloviki, people involved in war crimes in Ukraine and human rights violations in the Russian Federation and who have competences not required in any fairly open society.” They thus oppose any liberalization which can only undermine their wealth and positions.
Turchenko continues: “Since the siloviki hold a central place in Putin’s ‘winning coalition’, they will have the de facto power once the dictator dies. If they decide to rule on their own, this will lead to political instability, as there will be a question of whether or not there is a single source of subordination for all power groups. But whoever becomes the leader, their authority is unlikely to remain unchallenged.”
In this situation, opposition groups, already marginalized and forced in many cases to emigrate “must demonstrate their willingness to cooperate and enter into dialogue with one another.” This is a marathon not a sprint, and expectations of rapid and inevitable change only make success ahead more difficult to achieve.