By Paul Goble
In an extensive and wide-ranging discussion of Russia today, Yekaterina Schulmann says among other things that members of the Russian elite no longer consider the need to maintain a tightly united front around the regime because they have decided that they are now facing a struggle for survival.
That struggle, the Russian political scientist who is now in emigration continues, takes the form first of all in the search for someone to blame, a search that happens when people conclude that their country has suffered a defeat, that they are at risk because of it, and that someone must be blamed if they are to survive (teletype.in/@eschulmann/status__s06_e07).
Among her many other points, three are especially noteworthy. First, Schulmann says that this criticism is important because it is no longer anonymous but adds that that alone does not mean that there will be political consequences for those who engage in it. The political situation has changed, and a certain amount of criticism may now be tolerated.
Second, she suggests that the current drive to fulfill Putin’s partial mobilization order is quietly being shelved. That does not mean there won’t be additional mobilizations, but it does show that the Kremlin is not in a position to enforce its will across the country to nearly the extent many have assumed.
Several things point to that conclusion, Schulmann says. The military commissariats in numerous federal subjects have been issuing corrected orders changing the rules as to whether men subject to recall can leave the regions or not. In some cases, those orders were never given but in those where they were, they are being dispensed with.
But more important is the fact that various federal subjects have been reported that they have “already fulfilled their mobilization plan.” Since no plan as such has been announced, that is a way of saying they aren’t going to press for the calling up of more men. And this has been particularly in the case in non-Russian republics.
As often happens, Schulmann says, Chechnya has been in the lead in that its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, declared that he had no need to begin such a mobilization because the Chechen people had already been fully mobilized, a position at odds with Putin’s order and one that only Kadyrov could take.
Other republic and regional leaders can’t allow themselves such open opposition. But they have limited the impact of the mobilization where they can. The leaders of Tyva, ys, Crimea, Khakassia, Sakha, Buryatia, Perm Kray, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Vladimir Oblast, the Transbaikal, Tatarstan and Sverdlovsk have simply declared that they are wrapping up the process.
There are two possible explanations for the actions of the republic leaders. On the one hand, some can claim that people are more willing to serve and discipline is higher than in Russian areas. But, as Schulmann argues, “others say that the situation is exactly the reverse” and that the non-Russians don’t want to fight in Ukraine.
Protests have occurred first and foremost in the non-Russian republics, and the leaders of these republics, lest things get worse if they press ahead, have “quietly decided to curtail the entire process” lest the situation grow out of control. Moscow has little choice but to accept that if the potential for destabilization that the republic leaders are reporting is in fact real.
And third, Schulmann points out a significant detail in Putin’s annexation of the four regions of Ukraine. In none of the relevant documents about this, she says, is there any precise definition of what the borders of these regions and hence the new borders of the Russian Federation are in the western direction.
That means, the political scientist concludes, that in the west, Russia no longer has a clearly defined border, something that is a serious problem in a country where borders both international and administrative-territorial are among the most sensitive issues not only for the elites but for the population as a whole.
By failing to define the Russian borders in this case, Schulmann says, Putin opens the way for further changes. That is clearly his intention. But in the intervening period, this opens a Pandora’s box of questions about what the borders of the Russian Federation are and just how fixed they are to be.