Rostislav Ishchenko: The West Will Learn About Its Future In Russia

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


At the end of August in Vilnius, Lithuania, the future “Russia without Vladimir Putin” and the “democratisation of Russia” were discussed during the private part of the Conference of the president Valdas Adamkus…

Owing to a combination of circumstances, shortly before this, in the first half of August, an attempt was made to invite me to an economic forum in Krynica-Zdrój (Poland) – which at the time of writing will have just started – and also to a panel during which it was planned to discuss “Russia after Putin”. I wasn’t able to go there because I was busy, but apparently in Krynica-Zdrój the discussion had to be public, so (if they don’t change their mind) soon we will be able to learn about the assessment of leading western experts concerning the prospects of “Russia without Putin”.

Two shells in one crater?

I can say already now that the range of opinions will be extremely wide. Some will forecast liberal restoration, some will forecast fierce competition between “diadochi” (his successors) that will provoke a crisis of statehood, and others will declare that nothing will actually change. However, the essence of this invariance will be perceived by everyone in different ways.

As far as I understand, for the orderers of these brain storms it’s not so much the opinions that are important as their motivation (justification of positions). It is precisely the system of logical proof supporting a certain version of events that allows to estimate from outside its high or low probability.

Like how two shells don’t land in the same crater, the coincidence of the topic of both forums, the interval between which is three weeks, can’t be just incidental. Especially since both events take place in countries of Eastern Europe possessing an expert community that traditionally is quite well versed in Russian affairs and has close connections with Russia’s expert community. A combination of private and public panels allows, on the one hand, to receive an overall picture, and, on the other hand (behind closed doors), to narrow the topics down to concrete ones that the orderer is interested in.

It’s not about Putin

I think that the main issue that worries the western partners of Russia lies not in how and to who exactly Vladimir Putin will ensure a transfer of power after his fourth term, and whether he will stay in Russian politics after this. These questions have an unambiguous answer. After 18 years of becoming acquainted with Putin’s political style, even the most bang average expert of the most backwards Western country must understand that handing over power will happen in clear compliance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and a person who is capable of supporting and developing the current course will become his successor. And Putin will surely remain in Russian politics, because even as an individual, thanks to his authority, will ensure for his successor the necessary loyalty of the team.

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It is precisely this problem – the problem of a team – that interests the West much more than the “Vladimir Putin problem”.

Transformation of the team is already ongoing

Experts know very well that the team assembled under one president rarely unconditionally accept a new president, especially one from their own environment. The person who assembled the team is the leader for them, and the successor is perceived as an upstart. Each of the strong players considers that they could be in this position.

Elections, more often than not, don’t stop the race for power. As a result, the state apparatus breaks up into separate parts (loyal to various political clans), and the administrative function is reduced, gradually transforming into a function controlling the internal conflict destabilising the country.

The West would be interested in a succession of events in Russia along the lines of the worst scenario. They perfectly understand that it is impossible to break Russia in its current condition. The only theoretical vulnerability of Putin’s system of power is the process of its transfer.

The acting system still hasn’t passed through the fully-fledged transfer of governing powers. After the second term Putin not only remained in active politics, but he was also in the second most important position in the country, i.e., the team continued to play with the same leader.

But now it is about the gradual process of transforming the entire team.

The period of transformation is critical for any (not only political) system. It is the most vulnerable during this period. This is the best moment to land a blow. Moreover, the West also perfectly understand that if Putin’s system will painlessly pass through the transformation period too, then a highly reliable mechanism for preserving the political course during a transition of Russian leaders and political teams will be created. The system will pupate and become invulnerable to external influence.

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Destabilisation under any slogans

I will once again emphasise that the West knows that they can’t win against Russia. The only chance they have is to blow up the country from within. This chance will arise only if intra-elite contradictions become aggravated, and nothing aggravates contradictions as much as a race for power does.

In order to assist in the emergence of such a fight, the West needs to understand which people are the most probable candidates for entry into the team being transformed, what the timeframe of the transformation is, and what the technology of ensuring continuity will be. By possessing this knowledge it is possible to look for vulnerabilities, collect compromising evidence, kindle contradictions, and stimulate the emergence of personal conflicts.

It is considered that the West is afraid of the coming to power in Russia of so-called “parties of silovik, which, as is expected, will pursue a firm and aggressive foreign policy.

In reality, this not only doesn’t frighten the West, but, under certain conditions, it can even promote such outcome. Any distortion of the system, the emergence of an open fight, and a rigid standoff between political clans is essentially important for the West. And whether or not Russia will be destabilised under comprador or under patriotic slogans is, by and large, all the same for West. It’s not a coincidence that after the definitive failure of the liberal comprador opposition, the West started supporting the left-wing and radical patriotic opposition in Russia. Here the keyword is opposition, and its colouring is a minor matter.

To find a weak spot

Any, even the most externally powerful state in practice represents an extremely fragile organism. We saw in the examples of the Russian Empire, the USSR, and Ukraine how the power that yesterday seemed to be unshakeable dissolved in a matter of hours. Soros and Clinton’s democrats nearly led to victory the coup started by them in the US that was designed not to allow Trump to win. Only the danger of a civil armed conflict stopped them in the winter of 2016-17 and forced them to temporarily retreat. And now, after the activisation of the new campaign to discredit the president, which is capable of giving the grounds for impeachment, Trump frightens his opponents with the armed resistance of his supporters. I.e., the mighty US is in such a condition that the threat of civil war became the most widely used political argument.

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Any system has critical vulnerability. If to find it and strike a blow, then the state collapses before the eyes of amazed citizens who weren’t expecting such things. If the blow hits this vulnerability incidentally, without being specially prepared, then disintegration can be stopped if the leadership gives an effective and proper response. If the blow on the most painful point is struck intentionally and is well prepared, then the chances of remaining intact are zero. The West looks all over Russia’s body for this critical vulnerability and, obviously, connects it to the transformation process that the governing team in Moscow is going through.

The future depends on Moscow

We don’t know how exactly the Russian authorities will solve this problem. We will learn about it only when it has already been solved. But the fact that this solution has to be found and realised already now, before our eyes, doesn’t raise doubts.

There is never too much time to prepare for such responsible events defining the destiny of the country – usually there isn’t enough time. And the suddenly erupting interest of the West in a “Russia without Putin” means that some information about the transformational processes that started there has already been received, and now politicians (of course, not Polish or Lithuanian ones, but those who actually influence the determination of the world’s destiny) try to concretise the situation, anticipate the actions of the Russian authorities, and find that critically vulnerable point that, if struck, will ensure that the country won’t be able to recover. This is the main task of all brain storms that are being organised and will again be organised in the most different places (from the US and Western Europe to Eastern Europe and the CIS).

The following is important: analysing Russia’s domestic policy, the West tries to foresee its own future, since it completely depends on this or that succession of events in Moscow.

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