By Paul Goble
Since the end of Soviet times, many Russians have expressed the hope that at some point Moscow will decide to do what Beijing has done to maintain a Soviet-style system. They can now celebrate, Dimitry Savvin says, because “never before now has the political system as defined by the Kremlin been so obviously based on the Chinese model.”
The editor of the Riga-based conservative Russian Harbin portal says that Putin’s timing in doing so could hardly be worse because the system Deng put in place in China is failing and it won’t work in Russia over the longer term because Moscow faces even bigger challenges than Beijing does (harbin.lv/pekinskiy-ekspress-podgotovka-k-2024-godu-nabiraet-oboroty).
Putin’s actions show that he is trying to introduce the Chinese model, Savvin says, including a redivision of powers between the president and prime minister, the reliance again on a single ruling party with others reduced to decorative roles, the elevation of a state council over the entire regime, and using a referendum as a plebiscite to approve all this.
One could see this coming for some time, the Russian commentator says, but now “it is already obvious that the die has been cast and cast in the only direction which the Kremlin and Putin personally have.” That is, “modernization without modernization,” and a change in forms without a change in the ruling nomenklatura-oligarchic and Chekist rulers.
“The contours of the political system of the Russian Federation for the next 10 to 20 years have been drawn very clearly. In place of the current dictator, Putin, with time a new leader will come, also authoritarian but having less weight and authority. The new balance of power institutions will allow the aging Putin to semi-officially guide him.”
According to Savvin, “the state duma will be transferred to the control of the party of power, real opposition will be eliminated,” and those who remain will be decorative as in China and earlier in the GDR. And all this will be kept stable by “a new portion of repression.” That is a certainty.
“However, this scenario, so logical on paper, in the realities of Putin’s Russian Federation will become an equation with many unknowns.” How will Moscow overcome the economic crisis? Can the government bureaucracy become more effective? How can the Kremlin avoid more setbacks abroad? And “what kind of new deal can the powers offer society?”
At present, Savvin says, “there is no answer to any one of these vitally important questions. And as far as the Chines model is concerned, recent developments have shown that it is historically limited.” As a result, Beijing is returning to an ordinary dictatorship” because Deng’s system has proved to have too many shortcomings.
Given that Russia is even less well prepared for such a system than China, Savvin argues, “Putin’s modernization without modernization is going to produce not a few surprises, for Putin himself and for those around him.” He and they will respond with repression and terror. And those will work for a time just as they did for the Chinese.
“But then inevitably will arise the moment when this means will cease to work,” Savvin concludes; and then the entire edifice will be at risk of radical transformations backwards or forwards.