Read the original text at Wiener Zeitung.
December 7, Vladimir Putin announced his candidacy for the presidential elections in March 2018. Since then, neither the program nor the work plan for 2018–2024 has been submitted, and it looks like this would not happen in the near future. However, based on certain trends in Russia, we could already assume that the rest of the world should expect from Putin's Russia 4.0.
When Putin announced his decision to run for this post again, the Russian elites probably sighed with relief. Russian leadership under Putin’s rule is not something whole, but rather a conglomeration of various elite groups with their own interests and goals that are struggling for resources and trying to weaken each other. Some experts comment this as follows: "The Kremlin has many towers ". In this system, Putin plays the role of a moderator of the competition and the main judge in the conflicts between these elites.
The whole system would collapse with Putin
The role for Putin is unique: he created this system for himself, which means that his possible exclusion from the referee tower, for example, if he loses the presidential election in March, dramatic destabilization and eventual collapse can be caused. We can say that the elite needs Putin's presidency more than he does. But Putin himself also needs it. As he has not yet found a candidate who would defeat him in the elections and provide him with the same immunity, just like in 2000 he provided immunity to Boris Yeltsin, becoming his successor. If he finds a suitable person, we cannot assume that Russian elite would recognize him or her - if it is a woman, it will be absolutely incredible - a judge in their conflicts. In this case, it will strengthen one group, while the other will be weakened, and it would violate the entire balance of the system.
However, even now, we can observe the destabilization of Putin’s system. The disturber of calmness is Igor Sechin, the executive director of Rosneft state oil concern, which is in the US sanctions lists. This leader is one of the most conservative elite groups; he has been accompanying him since 1994 in various posts. Last year, with the help of the FSB, Sechin initiated an anti-corruption process against former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who, according to Sechin, extorted a bribe from him. In December 2017, Ulyukayev was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in one of the colonies.
By conducting this investigation against Ulyukaev, Sechin has violated the unspoken rule of the Russian elite: the conflicts should not be resolved publicly.
Ultraconservatives violate the internal balance
The case of Ulyukaev provoked a great interest, but it was not about him: he was a minor figure in comparison with Sechin. This daring and shameless move had to humiliate and weaken that ideological and economically-liberal circle around the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to which Ulyukayev belonged. This step showed that the ultra-conservative group of Sechin takes the upper hand in Putin’s system and thereby violates the internal balance.
There are several other indicators indicating that Putin’s system in its fourth term will not only become even more conservative and reactionary but will also become more anti-Western. So, the nomination of Putin's candidacy for the presidential election was announced at "Russia is my history" exhibition on December 26, 2017. This exhibition was organized by the Russian Orthodox bishop Tikhon, who is considered the confessor of the Kremlin leader. Tikhon is also the unofficial leader of the monarchist and extremely conservative circle within the Russian Orthodox Church.
The choice of such a place for the official announcement of the candidature is symbolic: many Russian historians believe that Tikhon's exhibition, which is a collection of some incorrect information, supports conservatism and authoritarianism and shows that all attempts at democratization of Russia are intrigues of the West, which are strange to the Russian people.
Kremlin’s abuse of history and the historical revisionism, the legitimization of frankly authoritarian practices and the growing fascination with "Western conspiracies" have recently appeared in an interview with Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service, who also has considerable power in Putin’s system. Bortnikov defended the massive political repression of Joseph Stalin with the argument that Stalin fought against "foreign agents." In his opinion, the struggle against the "fifth column" should continue in Russia, as "the destruction of Russia is still an obsession in the West."
The growth of the influence of the ultra-conservatives destabilizes Putin’s system, and this destabilization limits the flexibility of the leadership of the Russian state - the flexibility that has been a great advantage of this system, both in Russia and in the world. Now, it seems that Russia 4.0 will mobilize society to support the Kremlin with the help of three main issues: the historical grandeur of the country, Russia's incompatibility with democracy, and fairy tales of a Western conspiracy.
Against the background of growing economic and social weakening, this means that the number of repressions in the country and aggression in relations with foreign countries will increase.