The elections of the head of state and parliament will be held in Ukraine in 2019. Not only local political forces prepare for participation in the electoral process, but also the Kremlin, which considers it already as a point of no return. And this means that now is the time to analyze the motives and goals of Putin’s strategists, and, also important, to consider a set of scenarios that are being prepared for the return of Ukraine to the Russian orbit of influence.
Ukraine on the scope of Putin’s bonapartism
The regime of Russian President Putin has been in power in the Kremlin for over 18 years. This means that in the modern history of Russia, in terms of the duration of government, it is now inferior only to the dictator Joseph Stalin. Putin’s pre-election campaign in 2018 was held under the slogan “Strong Russia is a Strong President.” The slogan looks in the spirit of the reign of the French “sun king” Louis XIV, known for saying “The state is me”.
We must pay tribute to the fact that Putin’s inner circle does not hide his fundamental role for a long time. For example, Vyacheslav Volodin, the current head of the State Duma of Russia, which became an advisory body under the “tsar”, declared once in full seriousness: There is Putin – there is Russia, there is no Putin – there is no Russia ».
It was back in 2014, and since then the situation has worsened even more. For a long time at the helm of Russia, Putin tried already all possible hypostases, and PR-tactics. And in the end, the creativity of his team was at full zero. A big problem for Putin 4.0 is the absence of new creative ideas. And then, it would seem that it’s time to say “I’m tired – I’m leaving”, but he continues to cling to power, feeding the people, as they say, by “rotten sturgeon”.
When Putin was asked about his program at the end of last year, he gave a rather vague answer: “The main thing on which it is necessary to focus attention of the authorities and the whole society are such issues as the development of infrastructure, health care, education and, as I said, high technology, increase of productivity”. He did not say which questions he would prioritize during his next presidential term. This causes considerable concern amid of the economic difficulties and hardships experienced by the Russian economy and society as a whole.
If during the first 8 years of Putin’s rule the social contract with the people was based on the thesis “restriction of civil liberties in exchange for welfare”, then in 2018 this formula does not work at all. In the 2000s, Russians enjoyed substantial economic growth due to high oil prices. The average monthly salary rose from $ 60 in 1999 to about $ 940 in 2013. In 2002, a quarter of Russians lived below the poverty boundary, after ten years, the figure fell to 10%. All this time, Putin’s popularity has never fallen below 60%, but now this social contract with the Russians is not working at all because of the risks of economic collapse.
In 2015, the Russian economy decreased by 3.7%, in 2016 the fall was another 0.6%, and real incomes of people fell by 6%. Only for 2015-2016 years, the turnover of retail trade decreased by more than 15%. This is an unprecedented fall in the history of Putin’s Russia, which most affected the middle class.
In general, the economic crisis affected 78% of the Russian population. The future of the Russian economy also seems pretty sad; the business sphere in the country will remain in stagnation, which will significantly aggravate the inter-oligarchic struggle within the Russian elites.
In a survey of the Higher School of Economics on the vision of the prospects for the Russian economy in 2018-2019 and further until 2024, it is said that in the next couple of years GDP growth will be lower than the official forecast, and expectations are deteriorating sharply until 2022. In general, the consensus forecast of experts implies a real increase in GDP in 2018 at 1.7%, 2019-m-2020 – 1.6%, in 2021 – 1.8%, and in 2022 – again 1.6%. In short, even if oil prices increase, Russians will not have such an improvement in the quality of life as they had in the 2000s.
In response, the Kremlin moved from a model of legitimacy based on continuous economic growth to the model based on nationalism, foreign adventurism and the creation of external enemies. In the conditions of economic degradation, Putin’s strategy is to attract voters through foreign adventures – “small victorious wars” in the Crimea and Syria. These wars not only strengthen the legitimacy of power, but also divert attention from the economy. The population is consolidated around the narrative that Russia is once again becoming a great power. This was shown clear by the sharp jump in the rating of Putin after the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea.
In November 2013, Putin’s ratings were just over 60%, being the lowest for his entire stay in power. But after annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in March 2014, it jumped above 80%. Later, in order to block the European and Euro-Atlantic choice of Ukraine, the Putin regime unleashed a war in the Donbass. Together with the annexation of Crimea, the damage from the Russian hybrid intervention in the east of the country has already exceeded, according to moderate estimates, an amount of $ 100 billion.
Thus, in order to raise the rating of Putin and to create with the image of the world policy of extra-class to him, the strategy of building in Russia was involved in a kind of Bonapartist regime. Here we are talking about the fact that Putin, as an ex-member of the law enforcement agencies, tried on the role of the de facto monarch of Russia, and furnished himself with fictitious democratic institutions. In fact, the whole internal political struggle in Russia has become a low-quality show.
As you know, Napoleon Bonaparte greatly strengthened his authority by conducting foreign conquests far beyond France. Putin’s political technologists have taken up the same business, and now the Kremlin is pursuing an assertive foreign policy in the hope of establishing itself as a great power and ensuring a sphere of influence on its neighbors. The other side of this policy was the imposition of sanctions by the international community, which had a very negative impact on the lives of ordinary Russians. They began to be convinced that the deterioration of life is a perfectly acceptable sacrifice for the sake of Russia’s greatness.
The main targets for Russian aggression became the neighboring countries, primarily, Ukraine. To ensure the unbearable ambitions of Putin, a hybrid war was unleashed against the Ukrainian people, which already claimed more than 10 thousand lives. Taking into account the fact that Putin’s regime cannot offer any new constructive agenda for Russia’s development so far, considerable resources will be poured into the further militarization of the country, the consequence of which will be an increase of meddling in the internal affairs of Kiev.
Moreover, Putin retains the belief that without dominance over the Ukrainian territory, Russia will lose ground, and it will not have a historical legitimation, because Russia through all of its kings, general secretaries, post-Soviet leaders led the chronology from Kiev. Ukrainians, they say, capture Kiev Russ and millennia of legitimization of the Russian state, without of which Russia will be perceived only as an Asian state.
Taking in account that more than 4 years of war against Ukraine did not deliver benefits that the Kremlin’s apologists expected, more and more new attempts will be made to establish control over Ukraine. Especially, Russians are becoming more active during the next election cycle, which Ukraine expects in 2019.
Hot Elections-2019: scenarios of covert and overt Russian intervention
As there are less than a year left before the Ukrainian presidential elections, the problem of probable Russian interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine is becoming more important. American analysts began to deal with this issue first.
This is not surprising, since the previous presidential elections in the US were marked by rude Russian intervention. In an indictment published on the website of the US Justice Department, charges were brought against 13 Russian citizens, as well as three Russian companies in interference in US political processes and presidential elections in 2016.
Russians are accused of conspiring to deceive the US and conspiring to commit fraud, as well as in the theft of personal data under aggravating circumstances. They were also active participants in information operations designed to publish pejorative information against candidates.
In view of special importance of Ukraine in the plans of the Kremlin leadership, five scenarios were worked out at the analytical center Atlantic Council, according to which the Kremlin can influence the Ukrainian elections. In particular, American researchers identified the following ways:
1) Support for pro-Russian candidates;
2) Operation of influence through the network of leaders of public opinion acting in the interests of the Kremlin;
3) Implementation of a set of measures to destabilize the situation to the detriment of the Ukrainian government;
4) The use of cyberattacks against critical infrastructure facilities and theft of personal data;
5) Organization of a military coup in the interests of radical political forces.
If we talk about the first scenario of interference in the pre-election process in Ukraine, Moscow is certainly interested in promoting and supporting candidates who will further promote the Kremlin’s political agenda.
There may be several options. First the former Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Yuriy Boyko can get, the support of Russians, who is currently a people’s deputy and one of the leaders of the “Opposition bloc”. According to a poll carried out by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in conjunction with the sociological service Razumkov Center in May this year, his rating is 8.4% and he ranks on 3rd position among all potential candidates. Also, the leader of the party “For Life” Vadim Rabinovich, whose rating is 5.5%, can also be interest for the Kremlin. Both characters are old figures on the political board, and have been already tested by the Russians.
Secondly, another option is the unification of Boyko and Rabinovich together and a number of less significant pro-Russian creatures, and the nomination of a single candidate from them. This is likely, because in 2010 something similar happened. Viktor Yanukovych was able to enlist the support of other pro-Russian forces, and won the election, defeating of representatives of the democratic camp and the former “stars” of the Orange Revolution.
As a result, an authoritarian regime was reanimated in Ukraine, characterized by unprecedented corruption. Yanukovych as a whole was in the wake of Putin’s foreign policy, signing an agreement prolonging the stay of the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea, and already at the end of his reign, under the pressure of Moscow, took measures to block the Treaty on the Association with the EU. The last measure eventually led to his fall in the course of the “Revolution of Dignity”.
Thirdly, and this is seen as a fact already taken place, Putin’s strategists can implement the project of promoting the “Trojan horse”, which publicly will not look like a pro-Russian politician. Putin will not be to pour money into politicians during the presidential election who do not have prospects. It is more likely that they will promote a candidate who is not inclined to support the Euro-Atlantic vector of Ukraine’s development, or who do not consider the war in the Donbass as a first problem for the country. A simple analysis gives an insight into who is included in this sample.
The parties Boyko and Rabinovich can play the role of political forces, who after successful in the parliamentary elections, will take part in the formation of the Cabinet in the interests of this “Trojan candidate” if he or she will become a winner.
To be continued…