The political system Volodin leaves behind—that is, a system without any real politics—allows the regime the illusion of control. But the system’s domain has been all but reduced to the tiny world of politicians who agree to the Kremlin’s rules. Activists, ambitious players, and most importantly Russian citizens find themselves outside the bounds of politics.
If Putin tried to use the figures of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible in the same way, he would be regarded as an impostor. That’s why he is far more comfortable with Vladimir the Great. Besides sharing a name, Putin, like Vladimir, who baptized Russia, believes he is saving Russia’s Orthodox soul.
Many say Sergei Kiriyenko, the new deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration, is a technocrat who was brought in to manage a well-established political system. But there’s more to Kiriyenko: like other disciples of the philosopher Georgy Shchedrovitsky, Kiriyenko believes that reality can be altered and society programmed.
Despite Ramzan Kadyrov’s attempts to retain his special status, the old ways of doing business between Grozny and Moscow are over—and the new contract is here to stay.
There is a new political majority in Russia. It doesn’t believe in the country’s rulers, its opposition, or its institutions. This nameless, voiceless majority is characterized only by general discontent; it knows only what it stands against.
The look of Russia’s parliamentary election was different, even if the results were the same. Russia’s ruling regime is trying to preserve its legitimacy by being more flexible and more respectable. This system may eventually contain the seeds of its own transformation.
Russia’s parliamentary election campaign again dealt a crushing blow to the country’s liberal parties, which still believe the key to their success is appearing on television, whether in commercials or in debates. This is a losing strategy; liberals must learn to listen to the Russian people’s needs to garner support.
Some degree of isolationism—“sovereignty,” in official political parlance—is necessary for every authoritarian regime to survive. But elites and societies as a whole don’t want full-blown isolationism. In Russia and elsewhere, “authoritarian internationalism”—an alliance of quasi-democracies—has come to the rescue.
Public expression of atheism can now get a Russian citizen punished by the state. The jailing of a young blogger in Yekaterinburg is symptomatic of a culture of intolerance in which church and state work hand in hand.
The 2016 parliamentary campaign isn’t just a test run for the 2018 presidential race. Russia’s political regime is in search of a governing model that will help it sustain the status quo for the foreseeable future.