The election results were tallied in Moscow in September, and it is clear a new definite stage has been reached that will last until the spring of 2024. The State Duma of «eternal Putin» has been formed, and while not all the constitutional amendments of 2018 have found manifestation in legislation, the deputies have work in front of them.
During this election campaign, the Kremlin set an important precedent: Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) was declared an extremist community, thus opening the door for further charges under the extremist articles of the Criminal Code of any public organized action against the «Putin’s perpetuity.»
At the same time, however, Putin is a «lame duck» and must clearly announce his intention to remain president until 2030 no later than the end of summer 2023. There is no intrigue in this, as Putin can no longer leave his post. Back in 2014 he created a situation in which there is no one to whom the new sanctions position of Russia and its conflict with the West could be transferred. However, this does not change the «logic of history»: Putin’s decision to remain forever must be announced by him and «read» by the entire Russian elite within two years. For the Kremlin’s political managers, this means one thing: all the systems of the «space station» on which Putin will revolve around the planet must be brought back in line.
The decision to hole up forever on the “spaceship” should not only be greeted with popular applause, but also with various forms of demonstrating unanimity, economic success, and strategic optimism. All this must be ensured through special effort: elimination of disagreement, media support for the government’s actions, victories over the «external enemy,» etc. Work towards this is underway.
What is the significance of the internal political situation in Russia for Belarus in the near future?
There are three major strategic factors and three minor factors.
First: Lukashenko benefits from the weakening of Putin in any form. Putin’s internal problems inevitably focus the Kremlin on licking its own wounds, and this weakens the grip on the Kremlin trap which Lukashenko is fighting.
Second: The migration crisis has shown that Lukashenko has finally reached for a profitable strategy relative to Moscow. This is a game of «mirroring» in advance. The migration crisis has also shown that Lukashenko skillfully uses the tactics of shifting the «global agenda.»
Third: The so-called financial factor does not work as well as it did in the «old days.» The role of central banks in maintaining macroeconomic stability today is such that the economies of authoritarian regimes successfully overcome the problem of external debt. Hence, the theory of «soon the money will run out and the regime will fall» in this new macroeconomic reality does not work precisely as is often expected. Therefore, despite the immediate destruction of the existing economic infrastructure – the loss of loans and markets, the reduction of large-scale smuggling channels, and decrease of hydrocarbon transit through the country – the Central Bank brings the macroeconomic situation to indicators that are read globally as normalized.
Three minor factors:
First: Lukashenko is fighting in a Kremlin trap where the Kremlin still has no group that would set itself strategic goals relative to Belarus. Since there is no group, Lukashenko successfully «sells» his rotten herring under the guise of fresh tuna to Patrushev, shouting loudly about the «hostile West,» selling the threat of NATO strengthening in Ukraine, pretending to be a «defender,» and feigning active military cooperation. As the negotiations on integration roadmaps have shown, the Kremlin «does not need anything,» in the sense that there is no other group (except the Security Council) that needs something strategically. Supporters of the «union state» from among the professional «Russian patriots» are still hanging in the air with their expectations that Putin will «exact» a favor from Lukashenko for his support.
Second: Lukashenko is unsuccessfully attempting to carry out constitutional reform. Even if it is conducted, it will not reach its goal, as neither the Kremlin nor the West will «buy» it. It is impossible to «sell» it to the population of Belarus. And it does not solve the problem created by the presence of Tikhanovskaya’s headquarters. Tikhanovskaya’s headquarters skillfully – rather than being captured by the concept of a «government in exile» – has grown into a large humanitarian and political network, constantly expanding its borders, due not only to international diplomatic missions, but also because of pulling together various groups outside the country. Lukashenko was unable to box in Tikhanovskaya in the media; not in a personal sense, but as a strategy of «network action and expansion.» Therefore, the constitutional referendum does not have a political space in which it could be convincingly conducted.
From here comes the third factor: Lukashenko cannot get himself out of the situation according to the model of the 2010s. Since there is neither a clear policy from Moscow nor convincing political reform, the question arises as to when the repression will end and the transition to normalization begin. The answer is never. That is why the repressions are not stopping now but continue to grow. It is clear that the top ten from the Belarusian «Forbes» (Yezhednevnik) are awaiting this normalization. And this was stated clearly in an interview with Arkady Dobkin. However, instead of this the KGB killed one of his employees.
All this alignment of factors creates a common space from the political regimes in Moscow and Minsk in which it is not institutional decisions («union state») that matter, but the flow of informal decisions – power and media – related to repression, with a radical withdrawal from the global political process. These decisions lead nowhere. They do not bring closer either Putin’s illusory old goal of reaching new negotiations on security in Europe through an «era of uncertainty» or Patrushev’s provisional new goal of revenge for the 1991 «geopolitical catastrophe.» They also do not solve Lukashenko’s problems, even if he attempts to hold early elections in his favor without alternative candidates before the start of Putin’s new term.
Nevertheless, the «race» towards 2024 has begun. Both are running on equal footing: in Moscow, Navalny’s movement has been declared extremist, workers of GrodnoAzot are being arrested in Belarus, in Minsk the Ministry of Justice has closed the Writers’ Union, and in Moscow media outlets are being continuously added to the lists of foreign agents. So far, neither in Moscow nor in Minsk can anyone answer the question of when this will end and when «normalization» can begin, if only by the standards of authoritarian regimes.
iSANS analyst, political scientist, philosopher, lecturer at Charles University, Prague.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Москва и Минск в ближайшие два года