Sunday, February 14, 2016

Solovey on What Russian Elites Agree On and What They Don’t

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Valery Solovey, the well-connected MGIMO professor, says that “an important discussion about the political future of Russia is now taking place among the elite” and that its members are united on three points and divided into three distinct groups on the basis of others.

            In a Facebook post yesterday, the Moscow scholar notes that this discussion “has not been formalized” and that only its “echoes” are reaching “the broad public.” But he argues that the outcome of this discussion will have a major impact on Russia’s future (

                According to Solovey, the elite agrees on three points: first, that the current crisis will deepen, threatening the stability of the country; second, that the US, the UK and Germany now have as their goal “the overthrow of Putin” and will impose this view on “the entire Western community;” and third, that as a result, “confrontation with the West is inevitable,” although Moscow because of its weakness will seek to avoid an open clash.

            Solovey says that on almost all other issues, the elite is deeply divided as far as what the political agenda should be.  He suggests that “it is possible to separate out three positions schematically.”

            The first group believes that the political situation will remain under control despite a growth in social tension and that it will be possible to hold elections as planned that will result in the same four parties being in the future Duma as are there now. The liberal opposition, in their view, can simply be frozen out.

            The second group believes that continuing in this direction with no change will “sharply increase” the level of popular dissatisfaction and that this will be reflected in voting. Consequently, they call for a more sophisticated, “softer” and clever approach that might allow some additional parties in and the formation of new alliances.

            But the third group doesn’t believe that Moscow should take the risks that elections might bring and thus wants to introduce martial law and put off the elections. “The pretext for this is the terrorist war of the banned ISIS against Russia,” Solovey continues, noting that supporters of the first and second groups are prepared to introduce some elements of martial law without actually declaring it.

            Just what those “elements” might be, he says, “is not being actively discussed.” He cites “only two of them” – the “’de-dollarization’” of the economy by forced conversion of hard currency deposits of citizens into ruble-denominated certificates and “the introduction of a tax on foreign tourism,” one that might amount to 1000 US dollars per trip.

            Solovey does not suggest what the relative size and influence of these three groups may be or provide names of those taking one or another of these positions. But his outline seems plausible and suggests that politics behind the scene may be heating up, albeit not in the way some opposition figures have suggested.

            Instead of talk about opposing Putin, Solovey’s argument suggests, at least some are prepared to take even harsher measures in order to save him, his regime, and thus their own positions.  If that is the case, then the notion that divisions within the elite necessarily work against Putin almost certainly needs to be revised.

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