Staunton, August 27 – Many have struggled to define the nature of Putinism now, Kyamran Agayev says; but “the essence of [his] system is the continuation of the Soviet empire but on a weaker basis, territorially, economically, and technologically but with reliance on a single argument – nuclear – inherited from the USSR.”
Thus, the Moscow commentator argues, we should call Putinism, especially in its final phase, “post-Soviet mini-imperialism” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=55DCDD4EC4AFA).
Putinism as many have pointed out has gone through three stages in its evolution, Agayaev continues. The first, from 2004 to 2007, was a time when “the president-chekist replaced” the reformist prime minister Kasyanov with the colorless Fradkov and the accommodating foreign minister Ivanov with the hardliner Lavrov.
These personnel changes were accompanied by the elaboration of “a theoretical basis for revising the conception of foreign policy formed in the Yeltsin period, one of cooperation with the West, to confrontation in the goals of restoring the mythical geopolitical influence of Russia as the heir of the USSR.”
That shift was made obvious in Putin’s 2007 Munich speech, but “unfortunately, the West then and above all the EU underestimated the words of the Russian president.” As a result, Putin moved from “words to action, from theory to practice,” and that marked the beginning of the second state of Putinism.
In this phase, Putin’s position was expressed in formulas like “if you can do it, why can’t we?” and in the replacement of “the most civilized instruments of building relations with feudal methods of achieving one’s goals with the help of the demonstration of force.”
At the same time, in domestic affairs, Putin sought to consolidate national self-consciousness based on the idea of “a religious ‘uniqueness’ of Russia” and to oppose European influence, which “which defined not only the course of development of political ideas but promoted the growth of nationalism and chauvinism.”
Shortly after the Munich speech, Putin turned on Georgia and Mikhail Saakashvili, a man “hated in the Kremlin.” As a result, that Trans-Caucasian country and its leader “became the first victims of the practice of armed intimidation of neighbors and of reminding the world about the sphere of influence and interests of Russia.”
The ambiguous reaction of the EU and NATO to this aggression, Agayev continues, gave Putin confidence in his vision and in the notion that he would not be punished for any aggressive actions elsewhere on the former Soviet space. That misjudgment marked “the beginning of the third and last phase of Putinism or post-Soviet mini-imperialism.”
The “main mistake” Putin made was that before invading Ukraine, he did not use the money flowing in from the sale of oil and gas to build up and modernize the Russian economy so that it would be in a position to stand up the West when he decided to enter a period of prolonged confrontation.
Along with the nuclear arsenal, “the Putin regime inherited from the USSR a raw materials economy with serious internal disproportions” which left it uncompetitive in foreign markets. Moreover, the EU and the US, having finally drawn the correct lessons from Georgia emerged as “a united front against Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine.”
“Putin’s attempts to create ‘a small Soviet Union’ by forming with several satellites the so-called Eurasian Economic Union are yet another manifestation of his mini-imperialist policy.” That Union which claims to be an economic one is in fact “a purely political project,” one that has cost rather than benefited its members since it began.
Moscow has pressured all its members and sought to “drag them” into opposing Europe and the US,” something they are reluctant or even opposed to doing. That pressure and Moscow’s efforts elsewhere in the post-Soviet space have led Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to sign association agreements with the EU, thereby blocking Putin’s moves.
“The strongest shock for the Kremlin undoubtedly was the loss of Ukraine,” Agayev says. Its non-participation in Putin’s projects makes his mini-imperial project into a nonsense. Indeed, the resistance of the Ukrainian people and the tough stance of the West show that “the days of [Putin’s] post-Soviet mini-imperialism are numbered.”