Russia’s brand of exceptionalism is not messianic. It is rooted in the isolation of an Orthodox country and its belief that it possesses the gift of a true religious faith. It has been strengthened by Russia’s successful—if costly—defense of its state sovereignty, and confirmed by Russia’s status as a major global player that refuses to take orders from anyone.
Candidates backed by the authorities are increasingly declining to be nominated by United Russia. The ruling party doesn’t fit well into the technocratic-apolitical worldview of the presidential administration’s domestic policy bloc: after all, corporations don’t need parties. United Russia is approaching the role long played by the All-Russia People’s Front, the aborted party of power from the era of Vyacheslav Volodin.
Recent demonstrations in Russia have not been led by a particular group or movement with grand political designs. Instead, protesters in Arkhangelsk – much like those in Yekaterinburg and even in Moscow – are simply people fighting for their government, finally, to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Every step taken by any state manager, including ministers within the government’s economic bloc, is limited by a maze of KPIs, over the achievement of which they often simply have no control.
Russia is reputed to be a country whose past constantly changes to suit the purposes and vision of its ruling elite. Yet few would dispute that Russian history is one of extremes.
The standoff between European pragmatists and skeptics on Russia won’t end here. The pragmatists will now face heightened political risk for a long time, both in the Council of Europe and in their own countries. Any actions or even statements by Russia that could directly or indirectly confirm the skeptics’ fears will now unleash a barrage of criticism not only of Moscow, but also of those who allowed the Russian delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly.
It’s ironic that a show about narratives, and the way they can turn sour, caused Russia’s own narrative machine to show its fragility.
The society of citizens and its representatives in Russia face a dilemma. One option is to cut a deal with the state and work in its interests and on its terms. The other option is marginalisation, to become outcasts destined to be in constant conflict with the state.
Orthodox Christianity—and Vladimir Putin—are at the center of the country’s newest culture war.
We are unlikely to see any more Federal Protective Service officers as governors following the resignation of Astrakhan’s acting governor, Sergei Morozov. This doesn’t mean that security service officials will no longer hold high-ranking government positions, but they won’t have the special status afforded by proximity to the president. It no longer suits Putin to have regional leaders hinting at their closeness to him as a method of government: now they must do some work for themselves.