Russia in 2030 will be very different from what most expect
By Paul Goble
Unlike the citizens of most countries, Russians cannot say what their country will be like only 20 years from now, what will be the names of the rulers, what will be the nature of the political system, what will be the borders of the country, or whether it will even exist as such, according to a Moscow analyst.
The difficulties Russians now have in that regard, Fedor Krasheninnikov writes in “Svobodnaya pressa” yesterday, can be seen if one compares expectations and realities for three pairs of dates in recent Russian history 1910 and 1930, 1980 and 2000, and even 1990 and today (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/28137/).
It is certainly the case, he says, that “no one in Russia in 1910 could even approximately describe 1930,” but even the latter two pairs are instructive. On the one hand, “the difference between 1980 and 2000” was in some respects even greater, and “even the wisest sovietologists and dissidents were struck by how rapidly reality changed” in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
On the other, “despite all the differences between 1990 and 2010,” Krasheninnikov argues, a revenant from the earlier year “would hardly be surprised” if he found himself in the Russia of today. Everything that has occurred, including the putsch, the collapse of the USSR, and capitalism, would have “seemed to him completely possible.”
The reason for that, the Moscow commentator suggests is that “at the start of major changes when everything around is already beginning to dissolve, people [living in a country like Russia] completely can imagine the most varied development of events and as a result are not surprised” by anything that does occur.
The situation in other countries is very different. There, “living in a stable society which despite all [their] shortcomings, looking at the future all the same does not generate examples of all-embracing destruction.” Instead, people quite reasonably assume that there will be changes at the margin but that the system they are living in will continue much as it is.
That aspect of Russian life has profoundly affected Russian thinking for more than a century, as the comparisons Krasheninnikov suggest. “In 1910, the names Lenin and Kerensky were not very much viewed as future rulers of Russia, and who Stalin was could respond only the rare Bolshevik of an employee of the tsarist secret police.”
“In 1980,” he continues, “few could name the leaders of Russia in 2000.” No one would have mentioned Putin or Kasyanov or Gryzlov. “On the contrary, there were entire echelons of Komsomol and Party officials who sincerely supposed that after the withering away of the Brezhnev Politburo, power would gradually devolve on them.”
Looking out from 2010, the pattern is likely going to be the same, Krasheninnikov insists. Moreover, as he points out, “the structure of power in Russia has changed even more frequently than once every 20 years. If one compares the structure of power in1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010, there is nothing in common, if you think about it.”
Even the top post has changed. “In 1980, the main position was called the CPSU Central Committee General Secretary.” After that, the country’s leader was in 1990, the president of the USSR, in 2000, the president of Russia, and [now] in 2010, the prime minister.” That is dizzying enough.
But there is an even more radical possibility. In 2030, Krasheninnikov writes, “Russia may not exist at all. In any case in its current borders and in its current form.” Many Russians can imagine that the North Caucasus will have gone its own way by then, and the more pessimistic may add the Far East.
Meanwhile, the most thoughtful, he suggests, will recognize that essentially, “only the regions of European Russia are in more or less the same rhythm with Moscow and that only because all the active people [from these areas] long ago already left to life in Moscow and there is no one left to order life differently” in these places.
Elsewhere, the elites have not left, and as a result, “the exclave of Kaliningrad, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Urals, Siberia and the already mentioned Far East … are all living according to their own rhythms and only the improbable efforts at unification of the imperial center still allow one to speak about a certain unity.”
As for himself and allowing for unpredictable chance, Krasheninnikov says that in his view, “after 20 years, the process of the disintegration of the Russian Empire which began in 1917 will end” or be close to it. “Sooner or later,” he says, “Russia will leave its Algeria, the North Caucasus” and consist “only of Moscow and the European part of today’s federation.”
Any effort to prevent this by the use of force, he argues, “will sooner or later produce the oppose effect” of causing even more parts of the country to leave. The only question in that event, Krasheninnikov suggests, is “just how far the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction.”
It is possible that Russia will become a real federation, and it is also possible that it will become a confederation, “a variant of preserving the appearance of a single country despite its factual division into a number of self-administered and in fact independent states.” Such an arrangement might satisfy both elites and the population.
The “most radical of the possible variants,” he continues, would be “the division of the country” into a set of independent states. That would be “possible,” the analyst argues, “only in a situation when the current process of cracking down will last for a long time and thus will make the very idea of a single country hateful for the population.”
But there will be larger forces at work as well. “Considering the demographic situation and the inevitable decline of influence of the petroleum-exporting countries, it is quite naïve to suppose that Russia (or the states arising in its place) will be leaders in world politics and economics.”
In the best sense, Russia “can hope for a more or less prosperous life” having given up its “hegemonic” pretensions. In the worst, it may find itself a battle ground of “authoritarian and aggressive” states, who will “fight among themselves as a result of the [as yet not completed division of] the imperial inheritance.”
Moreover, the situation beyond Russia’s current borders will likely be very different as well. China, now on the rise, is likely to be undermined by that time as a result of its own problems. And “the events in Kyrgyzstan show the rickety quality of the post-Soviet political constructions in Central Asia.”
Krasheninnikov concludes his essay with some remarks about the state of religion in the Russia of 2030. “Twenty years ago,” he writes, “the Russian Orthodox Church,” having emerged from Soviet oppression, looked quite attractive, “especially when compared to the crowds of preachers arriving from the East and the West.”
Now, in 2010, the ROC has become “a semi-state structure, a branch of the powers that be, imposing itself on all of society.” But in 20 years, the situation will certainly be difficult. The ROC even now can’t finance itself, and its actions will alienate ever more parts of the state and society.
As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church will lose a significant part of its current influence,” and into the breach will “inevitably” come Protestants and all the other confessions,” including Islam. “One thing is obvious,” Krasheninnikov writes. The ROC will not be able to exist in its current form.
In short, he concludes, “the only thing Russians can be certain about the future of their country is that it will not be like what people are now saying it will be. Instead, Krasheninnikov says, the situation in 2030 may be worse; it may be better; but beyond any doubt, it will certainly be different.Paul Goble