‘There are No Good Scenarios for Supporters of Democratization in Russia in the Near Future’

July 4, 2024
  • Alexander Morozov
    Political scientist (Prague)
Political scientist Alexander Morozov states that the fight against the onset of dictatorship in Russia has been lost, but points out that within the next decade a new generation of leaders will come to power and steer the country. For now, however, there is no end in sight to the war.
The initial text in Russian was Alexander Morozov’s interview to the Strana i mir YouTube channel, later published as an article in the Moscow Times. We publish it here with Morozov’s permission.

For a long time before the start of the war, it seemed that Putin could continue the line of 2014 and wage a hybrid war, which everyone had grown accustomed to, with good chances for success. However, in February 2022, the scenario of a full-scale invasion was chosen. It became clear that this was not just a regional conflict, of which there are many, but a war in Europe. This came as a shock.

The shock was replaced by the understanding that this aggression is a natural, inevitable consequence of the development of Putin’s political regime and that its effects will be colossal and long-lasting – for Ukraine, for Russia and for all of Europe.
Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia shown (pink). Source: Wiki Commons
Inertia of the war and support for Ukraine

More than two years have passed since then. We seem to be in the middle of the war. Its further course will be determined by several key factors.

First of all, by its enormous inertia: Russian society, economy, culture and education – all of this has been overhauled in the last two years, adapted to the war and the effort to support it. The military-industrial complex is being restructured; property is being redistributed and consolidated; the operation of defense production is being strengthened, with plans made for years ahead.

New defense production facilities are being established and ramped up across Russia’s regions. The penitentiary system is preparing to provide prisoners as labor to meet the needs of the war. The system is being transformed to provide social benefits to soldiers and their families. Culture and education are seeing new forms of censorship and self-censorship. This is a long-term and serious process, a large-scale restructuring that in the future cannot be stopped with the flip of a switch.

Another important factor is that the Kremlin is dealing with a lot of consolidated support for Ukraine from the global community. This support solidified in 2022, which required significant efforts on the part of many European and American politicians, cultural figures and intellectuals. And a large group of countries remains in the perimeter of this global support.

Support for Ukraine cannot always remain at the same level, as other major global events are also taking place. But even two years after the start of the war, issues related to supporting Ukraine remain on the agenda of governments and international alliances.

The recent international Summit on Peace in Ukraine saw 80 countries gather in Switzerland and express unequivocal support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity. The conference was attended not only by Western nations but also some countries of the Global South.

The EU is working on a new position for funding Ukraine. In essence, the EU and the US are now setting up institutional support systems that are supposed to operate regardless of future changes in the governments of different countries. These support systems will be in effect for the next three, five or 10 years.
Summit on Peace in Ukraine. Switzerland, June 2024. Source: Wiki Commons
Peace and parity

All societies are tired of this war, first and foremost Ukraine, which is making enormous sacrifices. Other world actors also want the war to end as soon as possible.

About Russia we cannot say for sure, but it seems that a considerable part of the Russian population is also tired of the war and the stir it has caused. Most of the population would like to return to the norm before the start of the war. These people do not want Putin to be overthrown – they are satisfied with Putinism as a model of government in principle. But they do not want war.

What matters is not who wants peace and how much, but that it is hard to engineer. The obstacles today look impossible to overcome: Russia has annexed four Ukrainian regions. From the point of view of current Russian legislation, this is now Russian territory. This rules out the possibility of negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise.

It seems that Putin did this deliberately. He could have conducted a “special military operation” without annexing the four Ukrainian regions. But now their incorporation into Russia is a historical fact that cannot be ignored. Neither the Duma, nor the Federation Council, nor Putin can “un-incorporate” these regions.
“No matter who now comes out for peace, no matter who is ready to mediate – the leaders of China, Turkey, Brazil or the Pope – negotiations, let alone peace, are impossible.”
It follows that there is a long war ahead.

Currently, there is parity: Ukraine is effectively defending itself, while Russia is carrying out a slow offensive with minimal tactical successes. This parity can be maintained for a long time, yet it may also collapse suddenly. The question is: where will the collapse occur – on the Russian or the Ukrainian side?

In Russia, supporters of the war are expecting a successful summer offensive that will overwhelm the Ukrainian defense and leave Ukraine in a weak position in potential negotiations. Russia’s military and political elite, including Putin’s entourage, is clearly counting on this.

Dead end

Nothing good awaits us in this case. There will be no peace, even on Russia’s terms. Even a major breakthrough of the Ukrainian lines will not end the war or spur negotiations: having retreated 100 or 200 kilometers, the Ukrainians will continue to resist.

Still, the chances of taking all of Ukraine or overthrowing its current government are extremely low. It’s practically impossible. From the very beginning, the idea of taking all of Ukraine was absolutely crazy, a horrible and futile plan, as it entailed displacing 20 million people from the country. Yet it seems that Moscow was counting on this in 2022 and,perhaps, is keeping alive such hopes.

For Ukraine today it does not look possible to achieve goals like completely pushing Russian troops out of the country as it was constituted in 1991. This has been confirmed by both military and political experts.

Potential tactical success of a hypothetical Ukrainian offensive would not change the course of the war either. Only at huge costs could Ukraine cut a corridor to the Sea of Azov. Unlike the Kremlin, however, Ukraine cannot sacrifice 30,000-50,000 trained soldiers in the name of tactical success in an offensive operation that would not be a game-changer. This is what makes the current situation so tough [for Kyiv]. Thus, the war is completely stalemated now, and it will continue to be so.

Platforms like the peace summit in Switzerland will be useful when the question of negotiations arises. They can be used by those who would like peace negotiations, including some future Russian leadership.

Achieving peace will not be a matter of bilateral negotiations. The involvement of many countries, and not just Western ones, will be required, since no single country can take on such guarantees alone. The end of this war will necessitatebroad global guarantees.

Why the West will not intervene

Even though it has the capability to shatter the parity on the battlefield, the West will not do that. International institutions, their leaders, national governments and influential politicians are guided by three important considerations.

First: starting a war against Putin means becoming a co-instigator of World War III. Currently, the sole instigator of World War III is Putin, and no one wants to share that spotlight with him. Second: supporters of peace understand that the best option is Russia’s voluntary abandonment of the war, which would allow for normal European development.
“One can imagine a scenario of Russia’s being defeated on the battlefield, but the consequences of that would push the whole country into a state of ressentiment until approximately the end of the century.”
Third: modern political leaders in the West know that using force, which at some point seemed necessary, often backfires. The Vietnam War is still a subject of serious debate in the US. The same is true of the humanitarian-motivated second Iraq War.

European politicians are aware that a military operation against Russia means very heavy casualties. A military attack would lead to fierce resistance from the Russian population, which would rally ‘round the flag and see an unprecedented rise in patriotism. For a society like Russia, any sacrifice would be justified, while the West would be blamed for everything.

The enormous sacrifices that Ukraine is making and its heroic struggle is the Ukrainian people’s own choice, which has earned the country a lot of respect. That choice is highly appreciated by those who support Ukraine in the war. But no one wants to become a party to this war.

No good scenarios

A Western attack on Russia would be a horrible, absurd and senseless massacre. Russia’s voluntary withdrawal from the war would be the best outcome, achieving which would be more realistic if pressure were exerted on Russia not only by Western countries.

Only in such a scenario is historical continuity possible for Russia, which could then transform in the direction of global cooperation, develop new possibilities and emerge from isolation. However, the problem is that no one currently sees forces in Russia capable of taking on such historical responsibility.

However, it cannot be ruled out that in another year or two of war such forces will emerge in Russia. There is simply no other way.

Where could such forces come from? You can imagine two completely different options.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the late leader of the Wagner mercenary group. Source: VK
One follows Prigozhin’s line of rebellion. This is a model of the collapse of state institutions, with the population dragged into chaotic processes. Prigozhin’s rebellion showed that even in Putin’s tightly controlled system, a strong shock is possible, potentially leading to destabilization and chaos in certain situations.

The other option is the emergence of groups of senior officers demanding an end to the war and a return to “healthy authoritarianism” without war. From the point of view of the liberal camp, both scenarios are bad. But there are no good scenarios for supporters of democratization in Russia, nor will there be any in the near future.

In any case, Russia will have to deal with the consequences of this war and the transformation of the economy and society for the next 20-30 years. The country will be led at all levels by the bureaucracy that took shape over the past decade.

Each political generation is different from the previous one. This will be the case with the next generation, due to become more active and important in 10 years, when the current state managers give way. Perhaps the new elite, while maintaining the contours of Putin’s political system, will want to abandon some aspects of the constant state of emergency (chrezvychaynost’) that emerged in late Putinism.

Defeat and hope

The reference point then could be the 2000s. Amid an elite transition, those driving it will be interested in rejecting the 1990s, criticizing the era as harshly as possible, but will look at the 2000s as an ideal time that should be returned to.

One can imagine that this generation will view Putin’s political decisions after 2014 as wrong. And Russia’s negotiating position will be to keep Crimea but leave all other occupied regions. Or even return to the 1991 borders on terms of friendly relations with Europe and a complete rejection of all Putin’s geopolitical mythology.

Of course, this is not a forecast, just a hope. So far, Putin and his peers from his inner circle are holding the situation in check and are not giving power even to their own children, who are now 40-50 years old. But it is these people who, in a decade, will make decisions about the further development of Russia.
“The struggle waged by the generation of Alexei Navalny and the older generation of Boris Nemtsov is over. It is in the past.”
Today, the stage of transition has closed after 30 years – it ended with war. Everything that happened during this transition process no longer has power or plays a role. In its time, it was an incredibly important period of hard and desperate struggle against the onset of dictatorship. Having risen in the 2000s, asserted itself in 2011-12 and lost, this generation fought at least until 2019, for almost 10 years. But it is time to acknowledge its total defeat.

The historical situation is now in the hands of other people.
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