Anti-corruption demonstrations in Russia make Vladimir Putin’s regime suddenly look vulnerable.
The repressive Czarist regime in Russia fell one hundred years ago, after centuries of authoritarian rule, many wars and several pogroms. It was replaced by the genocidal totalitarian Soviet regime after a short chaotic interregnum.
The Soviet regime misgoverned Russia for 74 years, collapsing in 1991. It was succeeded by the drunken kleptocratic government of Boris Yeltsin, which never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to create a democratic social, political and economic structure on the wreckage of the USSR, while presiding over a catastrophic decay of Russian military strength. A once great power sank into irrelevance.
From the lower depths of despair (and the offices of the KGB) Vladimir Putin emerged. Putin reestablished despotic control internally and externally executed a series of brilliant maneuvers to restore the status of Russia in the world, using all the instruments of statecraft: diplomacy, propaganda, economic measures, subversion, military display and war (in Georgia and Ukraine). Operating at a time of pathetically weak Western leadership in Europe and the US, Putin took advantage of a series of opportunities to make Russia a major factor in the Middle East, turned the Black and Baltic Seas into Russian lakes, and established a significant strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean.
Until recently Putin’s position as dictator of Russia appeared assured for the foreseeable future. Then, suddenly, massive anti-corruption demonstrations broke out in over ninety cities and localities across the length and breadth of Russia, demonstrations that were repressed with typical police brutality. The demonstrations were nominally directed against Prime Minister Medvedev because of his flaunting of his ill-gotten riches, including a duck farm, which led to the demonstrators carrying rubber duckies in the marches (will a governmental overturn for the first time be named after a bird rather than a color?).
Suddenly the Putin regime appears vulnerable, which brings up the salient question: what comes next? History is full of the collapse of bad governments, only to be followed by worse. All the civil, political and economic institutions of Russia have been destroyed, weakened or co-opted, except for the armed forces which have been greatly strengthened and successfully deployed, to the delight of the Russian people.
And therein lies the answer to the question. A post-Putin government is almost certain to be a military dictatorship, with or without a civilian figleaf.
So what would this mean for Russian policy? Continuation of what it is now, and even more dangerous than currently. Perhaps temporarily less corrupt, but that isn’t particularly good news–corrupt officials are likely to be cautious so as not to lose their ill-gotten gains. Nationalistic military officers have no such restraints. As for Israel, the Netanyahu government’s high-wire act balancing Russia along with a dozen other factors in the neighborhood must continue in any case. It may be more or less difficult or the same, but there is no choice.
This article was originally published by Globes.