What is taking place in Russia — a big country with the largest landmass in the world — is difficult to answer fully but it needs attention. Its huge size makes it difficult for the government to control every facet of foreign and domestic policy.
The Russian Federation emerged in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Taking full advantage of the situation in whose creation it had already played a major role, the United States successfully infiltrated its agents into the Russian system and imposed the materialistic culture of consumption on the local population as well as the ruling elites.
Unhappy with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a segment within the KGB refused to accept the new conditions of the dominant aggressor (the US and the West as a whole). However, they could not resist using the crude conventional way (armed resistance), aware of the difficult economic, moral and psychological, and military-strategic situation. Also, the Russian people had not recovered from the shock of their motherland’s collapse.
Thus, the opposition leadership in the KGB withdrew into the shadows of the government and played the role of a “new partner” with the West, biding its time. On the other hand, new clans of oligarchy, spiritual values, various political movements, and associations began to emerge in the “new democratic country” and managed to become very powerful.
That is why most of the wealthy Russian business companies, whether Rosneft or Gazprom, are still controlled by the oligarchs. The key difference now is that the government is far more powerful than the clan of post-Soviet oligarchs. The state control of oligarchs is conducted through various intelligence services and semi-state organizations.
In principle, the control by intelligence services concerns the spiritual, social, political, and economic life of the country. This is best illustrated in the case of the opposition liberals from the “Ekho Moskvy” radio station. Marketing so-called Western values for the Russian people and trying to mobilize them against the current government, they are paid by the same Gazprom that is now subordinate to Moscow. This may appear like a paradox but it shows that the Kremlin is playing a game called “democracy.”
The reason for getting involved in this game is simple: the West dominates, and, accordingly, it is necessary to adjust to its values. The West provides about 80% of the world GDP, not to mention its technological and military advantage. So the Kremlin has to accommodate it to a certain level, both in foreign and domestic policy in order to safeguard the survival of a massive multiethnic country like Russia. The other perspective is that the Kremlin realizes it needs to create a control valve for the society in order not to suffer the fate of the Soviet Union.
One of the biggest problems in Russia is related to the ideology of post-USSR Russia. A relatively young country, Russia has yet to establish an ideological basis, and it can therefore be said that the Russian society at the moment is greatly confused and does not know where it is going, cannot understand its essence, and sees no vector of development.
Projects such as “United Russia,” “Our Russia,” and the “Russian World” have demonstrated their worthlessness over time. And yes, a competent political consultant like Vladislav Surkov can only temporarily fill in the ideological vacuum, but is yet to offer long-term solutions to a strategic ideological crisis within Russian society.
In modern-day Russia, many claim that there are two conventional domestic policy camps: patriots and liberals. But according to the president of the Center for Strategic Studies “Russia — Islamic World,” Shamil Sultanov, the ruling elite are divided into three groups, each nominating its candidate for president in future elections.
The conditional patriots are the set of organizations, parties, and associations with different ideological preferences: from leftists and nationalists to orthodox-monarchical.
Conditional liberals are also a heterogeneous group; there are both leftists and rightists, also those positioning themselves as “classical liberals,” that is, supporters of Western values (they are the majority in the camp of opposition to the Kremlin).
The raison d’être of these two camps is to imitate Western-style “democracy” since the NATO-designed system dominates the globe. In reality, both groups are tightly controlled and infiltrated by the intelligence services. But the West is not the only reason; another motive for these groups’ existence is the struggle for greater power of various elites within the Russian government.
There are also camps outside the Kremlin. For example, in the North Caucasus, everything is often reduced to the struggle between the FSB (successor to the KGB) and GRU (military intelligence), but the reality is much more complicated and frequently goes back to redistribution of spheres of influence. During military conflicts, a GRU versus FSB confrontation may have existed, but now differences between the intelligence services are gradually receding.
In Tatarstan politicized crime is at odds with politicians acting under the control of the intelligence services. In Bashkortostan representatives of the old elite and the new administration are in full war. That is, whatever one may say, the disguised liberal opposition and pro-Kremlin structures do not join forces, just for a show; there is a struggle between representatives of the authorities and civil strife everywhere.
The ideological sphere is the only arena where the “cold war” is still going on between the Kremlin and the West, but this is taking place inside Russia. Because of lack of ideology, today’s nationalist/patriotic forces are trying to widely advertise their ideological thesis and to impose a certain model on the Russian government. However, Moscow is not rushing toward adopting any specific state ideology because of the complexity within the ruling elite. The Kremlin also wants to avoid irritation among the population as it is split into three conventional ideological camps since the 1990s (liberals, leftists, Right — each is fragmented into smaller structures), and there is a possibility of the appearance of new sympathizers to other ideologies.
On the surface, it appears as if within the liberal camp, Alexei Navalny is gaining greater popularity among the people. But the reality is that this character is created as a figure of pressure on some officials within the government. No serious steps are expected from him. In fact he is simply a demagogue.
As a counter to the liberals, the patriotic associations “Izborsk Club” and the Orthodox Christian television channel, Tsargrad (run by Alexander Dugin and oligarch Konstantin Malofeev) were created. These persons put forward a model for the country’s development, relying mainly on the Soviet past — with the exception of Dugin. His idea of “Eurasianism” is a symbiosis of Russia’s messianic role in an attempt to “find its own road,” but in reality this vision is more about a “new form” of the Russian empire. Naturally, both visions involve attempts to go back in time, with the prefix of neo-, and are not acceptable to the current Russian government.
Many different projects and figures are represented within Russian political life but at the moment, the above-mentioned players appear to be riding the media-projected wave of popularity.