Analysis by Karine Bechet-Golovko
The publication by the US Congress of the proposed new sanctions against Russia, removing it from the dollar zone and blocking the key areas of its economy, revives the debate on the position of the elites in Russia. A central question comes up in the debate: what has liberalism brought to Russia since the fall of the USSR? In this war, like the Second World War, Russia is staking its life. It must win it, like a patriotic war, in order to reach a new level of political existence.
Sanctions: from the failed influence-attempt to open conflict
The use of sanctions to influence Russian domestic policy is an outdated phase, it has been overcome by Russia, which has strengthened its economy and consolidated its population. Now the conflict is moving to a new stage: that of coup de grace. The expected violence of the new US sanctions, if adopted by the Congress, will drive Russian policy towards a choice that its leaders do not yet want to make, or affirm. Officialy, this act is adopted to strengthen the role of NATO and fight against cybercrime. We recall that Russia has often proposed international collaboration to fight against cybercrime. Since the phenomenon overlept borders, the proposal was logical, but the ideological dimension of the phenomenon brings it about that the criminals of some are not necessarily those of others.
These new sanctions would lead to the express rejection of Russia from the global world: personal sanctions against businessmen and politicians; prohibition to participate in Russian energy projects, to allow in any way the maintenance, repair or development of infrastructure in the energy field; prohibition of financing directly or indirectly the sovereign debt of Russia; blocking the ownership and transactions of the eight major Russian banks (Sberbank, VTBank, Gazprombank, Bank of Moscow etc.).
Russian elites: from useless betrayal to the necessary renewal
Various publications in Russian resources highlight the issue of treachery of post-Soviet elites. True, the example of Sperbank Director Herman Gref speaks volumes. To maintain good relations with the West, he refused to establish Sberbank in Crimea, whose capital is public (see our text here), he tried by all means to privatize it, and he refused to recognize – in spite of the presidential election on this subject – the validity of the documents presented by the nationals of Donbass (see our text here). Despite so much consistency in baseness and allegiance, he could not prevent the sanctions. His betrayal was useless.
An interesting article came out on the website of the Russian news agency Regnum, retracing the line of conduct of the elites who came to power on the ashes of the USSR, who methodically led the deindustrialization of the country, putting it in a situation of technological dependence on the West, in areas where it had been totally technologically independent — before they managed to sell the assets. Aeronautics, cosmos, energy etc. Exactly these areas that may now be in the line of fire.
Depending on the point of view, these neoliberal elites are at a dead end or have taken power. The dead end comes from the very fact of the sanctions which put the existence of the country in in the balance, in its borders and its current form, as nobody is hiding the US goal: to provoke a popular discontent that the power could not withstand and that would lead to its overthrow. Russia is not Ukraine, but the risk is not zero. Some members of the government seem to be actively working on it …
However, the popular discontent provoked by these elites — be they in the Government, in the Presidential Administration, at the head of the big companies with public capital, at the head of the banks — puts the power in front of its obligations, it must react, it is a question of survival. Intellectually, these elites, even pseudo-brains like Kudrin and his expert platforms, are absolutely unable to cope with the situation, all they can offer is the virtualization of the state, the digitization of the economy, and the replacement of the administration by “volunteers” of civil society. This is not the way for the country to produce the goods and technologies it needs. And if they can’t be bought abroad, this elite loses credibility, and loses its mask. Otherwise, it will drag the Russian state down. The habit of betraying what it has acquired leaves it no choice, all or nothing at all. This is precisely what can cause its loss, the reality of the conflict requiring other men, another elite. We do not make war with conflicting interests.
However, for the political thinker Prokhanov, on the contrary, the homeland is in danger because these individuals took power. According to him, this statement is based on the finding of the “counter-revolution” after the Crimea. The re-attachment of Crimea to Russia provoked a very strong patriotic wave, all the more so since it was unexpected. Meanwhile there had been Medvedev’s presidency that had opened the doors of power to civil society, doors that were then kept open. All the heads of the 90s are still stationed in circles of power, a whole neoliberal mesh was set up, the time was for friendship, for cooperation, the cold war was over. Oil was on the rise, everything was bought, what need to produce? Apart from the Munich speech, nothing impeded this march. And there, Crimea. A mad hope seizes the almost sleeping population. A forgotten pride: people fighting and dying for the right to be Russian and not enter the European Union.
This wave against the ideological current, while everything was going well and the sleep was sweet and pleasant, caused a real panic in the neoliberal clan, firmly planted in all layers of power. The neoliberal clan is fighting to bury this wave – the Novorossia project falls apart and Tsarev leaves the political landscape; Strelkov is kindly sidelined and the inevitable Minsk agreements are made to block the advance of the Donbass fighters, to let the NATO advisers take care of the Ukrainian army and to abandon cities like Odessa to the revenge of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis, with the consequences that we know. The message passed is clear: there was Crimea, a precise, circumscribed element, and not a trend.
This fight of the elites does not allow taking up the real fight, rather it exhausts the forces on the interior stage. Which does not mean that the fight is not being conducted elsewhere. A payment system called MIR, parallel to the SWIFT system, has been put in place and all civil servants are paid in this way, which is an important guarantee; Russia suddenly resold 85% of its US Treasury bills; Russia would be preparing for a form of nationalization of its financial system.
Anything that does not destroy us strengthens us. Russia must win this warm — because it is a war — to reach a new level of political existence, like the USSR during the Second World War. Some have made an interesting parallel between Peskov and Molotov, in this rhetoric refusing conflict, which does not prevent an underground preparation. It would be good not to repeat the same mistakes. Reactivity would be all the better if the political weight of the elites corresponded to their true base in popular legitimacy. To support neoliberal forces against the winds and tides, which, without this protective hand, not corresponding to any real (interior) political force is counterproductive. Especially in times of conflict. And there is conflict.
Anything that does not destroy us strengthens us. Russia must win this war, it can, and can thus strengthen itself, modifying the ideological context with the balance of geopolitical forces, even if it is precisely what a many of these elites wants to avoid at all costs. But if it loses the fight, it will cease to exist in its political form and its current borders.
The choice for Russia arises again, between the abdication of 1991 or the fight of 1941.