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Putin’s Russia En Route To Self-Isolation – OpEd

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A lot is currently going on in Russia, with one of the most discussed topics being the detainment of Navalny and replacing his suspended sentence with an actual jail sentence. We will not discuss the legal peculiarities of Russia, nor will we talk about how the international community will most likely agree to impose new sanctions against Russia. We will talk about how Putin’s Russia is deliberately taking the path of self-isolation.

Yes, you read that correctly – Russia, i.e. Putin, is rapidly heading towards self-isolation. And it makes sense if you think about it. Essentially, Putin can only remain in power if Russia becomes isolated from the rest of the world. We could be witnesses to attempts to create a new version of North Korea.

Of course, there are no official documents or decrees issued by Putin that clearly state something like this, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

What is needed to ensure the existence of an isolated regime? Such regimes are based on three pillars – the army, internal forces (both law enforcement and legislative institutions) and propaganda/agitation.

We’ve talked plenty about Putin’s announcements regarding armaments. If weapons can be generally divided into defensive and offensive ones, Putin’s Russia is establishing its defense doctrine based on its offensive weapons. This means that currently one of Russia’s most important tasks is to ensure, or at least create an illusion, that the Russian Armed Forces are capable of engaging in combat on any level. Naturally, supplying the army significantly worsens the livelihoods of the regular people. Is Putin concerned about such trifles? I don’t think he is. We can compare the current situation with the arming of the USSR in the early 40-ies and during the Cold War when USSR citizens were drowning in poverty because all of the money was used for armaments and to ensure that no one can freely leave the happy USSR.

What concerns internal forces, these can be divided into two segments – internal law enforcement structures and legislative institutions. If we look at the eagerness of law enforcement to suppress protesters, it’s clear that neither Putin, nor Lukashenko have to worry about this aspect. Law enforcement remains loyal. However, Putin should remember history, i.e. that during all the important events of Russia, the army and the police have sided with the people.

What concerns legislative institutions, this is where Putin can feel the safest. Currently, there are 441 State Duma deputies, and 335 of them represent the party United Russia. For those who don’t know, Russia is one of the unique nations where someone first became president and only then a party was established. Moreover, parties are usually created to achieve particular goals or “ideals”, regardless of its leaders, and United Russia was purposely created to support Putin: the charter of the party states that it’s goal is to support the president. This means that Putin can be certain that the legislative system is working for him. In Russia, legislature is more intended to be an imitation of democracy, but in reality it accepts and obeys Putin’s wishes.

For instance, a draft law is being reviewed that would amend Russia’s Criminal Code to punish (with a jail sentence of up to five years) those that falsify facts about World War II. Naturally, falsification in the sense of Russian law means any opinion that doesn’t correspond with Putin’s views. Another example – Putin has asked the State Duma to pass a law that forbids comparisons between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Does anyone have any doubts that Putin’s wish will be fulfilled? Lastly, everyone is aware that due to Russia’s actions it’s officials are being subject to different sanctions. Do you think that Russian officials then try to understand what they did wrong and attempt to improve in order to live in harmony? No, of course not, instead the Russian State Duma is considering to pass a law that would intend criminal punishment for persons that discuss sanctions being imposed against Russia. This means that, for example, if a foreign official or a regular citizen expresses an opinion that sanctions should be imposed against Russia because of its actions, they can get punished in Russia. Great idea, isn’t it? There is no doubt that the law in Russia is intended to blindly serve Putin.

Let’s look at propaganda/agitation. In order for any propaganda to be effective, it needs to be spread as widely as possible and any other opinions must be simultaneously silenced. And it’s well-known fact that if you begin brainwashing people at an early age, it will only be a matter of time until they truly believe you.

This means that it’s crucial to begin explaining to people what is right and wrong as early as possible. In Soviet times, schools had political information classes where children were taught about the wishes of the leaders of the party. Putin has expressed numerous times that he wants to resurrect the USSR. This is impossible on the same geographical scale, but it can still be done in the current territory. There is no need to reinvent the wheel – just use the previously acquired experience. In response to the high participation of pupils and students in the recent protests against the jailing of Navalny, Russian schools will now have a special post, i.e. advisor to the teacher whose responsibility will be to suppress such sentiments. A source close to the Russian Presidential Administration revealed that the participation of young people in the protests was discussed on the “highest level” and that the administration decided to activate “all of the existing projects concerning this issue”. Well, we’ve covered propaganda and agitation – in Russia already since the first grade until the graduation of a university young people will be told that Putin is great, Russia is friendly and everything outside of Russia is rotten. Just like in the good old Soviet Union.

What is the situation regarding the freedom of speech and media freedom in Russia? You’ve probably heard – the situation is prefect, i.e. these things simply do not exist.

What concerns the freedom of speech, in 2020 Russia was ranked 149th out of 180 countries. North Korea was ranked 180th.

The country is run by state propaganda and agitation, but there is one obstacle – the internet. Of course, the internet can be subject to control, but not completely. So, what is the solution here? The answer is – just turn off the internet. It may sound impossible, but Dmitry Medvedev has already talked about this, saying that if necessary Russia is legally and technologically ready to disconnect form the world wide web.

What can we conclude from all this? First, Putin has ensured that the army serves as an instrument of deterrence, and not because of its defensive potential, but because of its offensive capabilities. Even if these capabilities are non-existent, it’s important to make others believe in them.

Second, law enforcement authorities in Russia are vast and, at least for now, loyal to Putin. Moreover, legislators are ready to fulfill all of Putin’s wishes.

The media publishes only pro-Putin information, and if someone tries to express a different opinion, they are quickly silenced. An in order to ensure future stability, Russia has decided to brainwash children from a very young age. The only thing that could hinder this is the internet. However, the internet cannot be a problem if there is no internet.

You have to agree that such a situation cannot accidentally come together. This is the result of deliberate actions, and these actions are inevitably moving Russia closer to self-isolation. Nothing from the outside will be allowed in Russia. Can Putin truly benefit from such a situation? I would say yes, because he is fully aware of what could happen if the regime isn’t isolated. Putin’s Russia and North Korea already had numerous similarities, but it now seems Putin wants Russia to become indistinguishable from its ideological sister.

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Zintis Znotins

Zintis Znotiņš is a freelance independent investigative journalist. He has studied politics and journalism at the Latvian University.

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