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Putin’s Policy is Totally Ineffective: False Goals and Real Results. How to Buy a One-way Ticket – Paul Tolmachev

The main devastating consequence of what Putin has done for the people and the national economy is that he has shortened planning horizons and changed natural individual, social, and corporate goal-setting. He has made Russia a toxic territory for everyone, both the population and external partners.

Aggressive conflict, let alone a state threatening to directly involve the entire population, negatively changes institutions – rules and norms, legislated or ethically internalized. These changes are directed toward dehumanization, simplification and primitivization, and, naturally, totalitarian repression.

This is the logical result of adaptation to the decisions made, when a belligerent dictator, needs full control of any state resources and ensuring uncontrolled access to them. Such resources, their productive part, include the population, and to ensure the possibility of its use it is necessary to strengthen the control through the sequestration of rights and freedoms.

All this, accordingly, sharply narrows the planning scale of people. This applies to personal domestic matters as well as business activities and even family prospects. Your main focus now, as a citizen, is on adapting to the sharply tightened conditions, to the increased uncertainty and unpredictability of state action, with obviously persistent expectations of an even greater deterioration in the conditions that determine your decisions.

All the basic incentives for social and economic progress, individual initiative and creation have now been compressed. Trust, positive certainty, a long perspective and its positive appreciation, physical security and confidence in real justice, openness to the exchange of ideas and goods with the global world, humanitarian values like law and favorable conditions for creativity, research, entertainment, etc., etc., etc. – all effectively removed from the spectrum of social attention and opportunity. It is now difficult for social and economic agents to venture into any creative, much less complex technological endeavor with a long horizon and confidence in the reality of their rights and the institutions that protect them. The theory of temporal preference will obviously be enriched by another striking empirical evidence. 

With each new tightening, a focus on survival and adaptation–and on an atavistic, primal level, not at all on a humanistic one–is a completely inevitable rut for society and its points of application: economy, culture, science, social communication. The same applies to moral and ethical value changes: so-called mores are tightening, getting rougher, and rolling back to the biological base models and incentives of rational behavior of biological units. Tolerance, loyalty, empathy, agreeableness, trust, and empathy in general are shrinking dramatically and losing their significance. Variable P (animal) in McCloskey’s model is rapidly increasing its weight relative to variable S (human). The feralization, dehumanization and primitivization in all senses are the absolutely inevitable social and psychological consequences of Putin’s dictatorial policies.   

What has Putin done to destroy the prospects of Russia’s strong geopolitical positioning? Here the answer is as simple as possible. He has made the country an outcast, an undesirable partner at all levels – state, social, personal. And in every sense: defense, economic, social, cultural. Strategically and tactically, Putin has weakened the country’s position as much as possible, without any real (rather than imaginary) benefits in return for the gigantic costs.

Separately, we can highlight the issue of the growing negative attitude towards Russians on the part of the population of most countries in the world. This is the inevitable biological reaction of any higher primate to the unmotivated and inadequate aggressive behavior of a cohabiting entity that threatens the population or group, and thus each of its members individually. Obstruction, refusal to cooperate, and isolation of such a subject in such a case is not just an emotional sublimation, but a biologically justified protective behavior pattern, learned and fixed as a reflex.

For himself and his regime, Putin has also seriously worsened the prospects. Moreover, he has created a self-destructive rut. The extreme state of disequilibrium into which Putin’s decisions have led a previously stable and effective autocracy is being prolonged. A domino effect arises, in which each new decision taken, whether aimed at weakening or tightening the dictatorship, only leads to negative consequences for the regime itself.

This is a new fatal paradigm in which there is no return ticket and the only direction is self-destruction of the regime. An authoritarian regime can exist for a long time in an equilibrium stable state, but all its efforts should be aimed at maintaining the found equilibrium, be it North Korea or Singapore. And if a decision is made to shift toward liberalization, such as in Singapore, it is done gradually and carefully by the regime. It is also done in the case of a shift toward tightening and de-liberalization, as we have seen in China during all the years of Xi’s rule. At the same time, the rational behavior of North Korea’s tyrannical dictatorship is to maintain a constant equilibrium and ensure its stability by avoiding abrupt deviations from established policies. At the same time, cautious transformations are possible, up to minor liberalization, e.g., of economic processes.  

The rational behavior of the domain and prime groups in an autocracy is to make decisions that will maximize their life cycle in power and make it most comfortable. The only problem is that autocracy in today’s world, dominated by developed democracies, is generally a political arrangement that is highly unstable by nature. Competition, dispersed knowledge, distributed competencies, and the self-organization of social processes are virtually non-existent. Accordingly, the transaction costs and efforts of power groups to maintain their position are very high, and the likelihood of erroneous destabilizing decisions increases.

The lack of prospects for alternative solutions, the impossibility of comparisons and weighing create the impossibility of making rational decisions – they become tendentious and self-justifying.

In general, the risks of self-destruction in any autocracy are very high in principle, and they become all the more inevitable in a growing dictatorship. Such risks greatly outweigh the risks of a stable or liberalizing autocracy. First of all, these are risks for the principal himself and the elites affiliated with him.

In a liberalizing autocracy, even in the event of further elimination of the former power group by a new, more democratized one, the risks of physical persecution or elimination certainly exist. However, they are substantially lower than in an intensifying dictatorship. In an autocracy shifting toward tyranny, the risks for the domain and its entourage only grow, since in the end there are no options for becoming the “father of the nation,” the “queen of England,” or a “mere pensioner. Severe retaliation by outside forces, renegade elites or a rebellious society is an almost inevitable scenario. Sharing, sooner or later, the fate of Hussein, Hitler, Gaddafi, or Milosevic is virtually a grander prospect in today’s world for tyranny. Against this backdrop, Stalin’s end would look like a gift from fate.

Shifting into dictatorship and tyranny, autocracy is a rut that virtually eliminates any room for maneuvering or reversal for its main beneficiaries. Any such movement leads to the conditional or quite certain death of its main beneficiaries.

As some sort of summary, I will try to present the most obvious destructive consequences of Putin’s current policies, both for himself and for society and the state as a whole. As a basis for reasoning, I will make the assertion that, thanks to the decisions taken, none of the phantom goals that Putin and his inner circle apparently set or definitely declared for themselves, society, and the state – have been and cannot be achieved. Moreover – they have led to absolutely and directly opposite consequences, which are certainly disastrous for both society and the state, and, finally, for the domain itself and the elite affiliated with it.

Regarding Russia’s geopolitical goals and positioning, the negative consequences of the Putin regime’s policies are obvious and consist of the following.

1. Denazification. Not only is this goal bogus, but its opposite effect is now perfectly credible. Nationalist formations have rallied around the legitimate authorities and have effectively become part of the sociopolitical mainstream – which, I note, in reality was not the case before the invasion, when such formations were marginal. It is also important that the number of sympathizers of the nationalist idea among the Ukrainian population has increased manifold, which is quite natural in a defensive war.

2. The loosening of the stability of the Ukrainian political regime and the government of Vladimir Zelensky: as a result of Russia’s military aggression, the political field in Ukraine has become much more homogeneous and uniform than it was before. The diversification of goals and interests of different groups of political interests has been transformed into commonality.

An exceptional consensus has emerged regarding the figure of President Zelensky. The diversity of their own political objectives by various groups has been voluntarily nullified, until a certain, obviously more favorable moment. Thus, the current government and its competitors have acquired a unity of goals and objectives.

3. The West’s stratification. The West and the world community, with few exceptions, are forced to unite, putting aside differences on issues relevant to peacetime, but not to military turbulence. A mass of issues typical, for a quiet period of world life, have been postponed and have lost their acuteness of relevance at the moment. In fact, Putin’s decisions have led to political mobilization and intense rallying of various countries with significant contradictions among themselves, which had been important before the war.

4. The prevention of NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders and the strengthening of Russia’s geopolitical position has turned out to be quite the opposite.  NATO is obviously expanding right up to Russia’s borders. NATO is increasing its contingent by an order of magnitude, and in the future, judging by the statements of key functionaries, by two or more. Finally, Russia’s geopolitical isolation is becoming evident. In addition to isolation by the West and its allies, we are witnessing a de facto refusal of close cooperation in most important areas by China or Vietnam, as well as by former satellites, such as Kazakhstan.

5. Betting on an allegedly unbreakable dependence on Russian raw materials. Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons in Europe is limited and intensively reduced. The development of the alternative energy industry is intensifying sharply. The energy transition, spurred on by an external threat, becomes several times more intensive. Funding for developments in the development of alternative energy and ways to reduce the costs of its widespread use will grow. This means an obvious weakening of Russia’s economic potential, since raw materials extraction and export are the main productive component of the Russian economy, while most other industries are totally undeveloped. 

6. 6. The desire to refocus geopolitical and economic ties to the East has not ended in anything positive and is unlikely to materialize in principle.  Moreover, it has resulted in the Asian and Middle Eastern countries refusing to cooperate with Russia or substantially limiting it in most of the most important areas. These countries have actually decided to follow the sanctions imposed by the West and allies, including under the threat of secondary sanctions, while strengthening their own negotiating commercial positions in relations with Russia. China, India and other countries have already taken advantage of Russia’s worsening competitive position for their own purposes, increasing their benefits and at the same time costs to Russia, which is generally natural and predictable.

7. Peace to Donbass and Luhansk. Even if we assume that the population of the Donbass and Luhansk regions was subjected to violence by the Ukrainian government, (which is largely untrue since the Ukrainian government was fighting armed separatists), there is now a real war in these regions and the population is dying on a large scale. Moreover, all elements and mechanisms of the internal policy of the Russian government, including repressive subjugation of the population, de facto reduction of civil rights and freedoms, outright lies in informing, etc., are implemented in the regions that fell under the “liberation occupation” of the Russian side.

8. The Russian World and the recreation of the so-called empire. In fact, not a single Slavic state has supported Russia. Even Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator who has paid lip service to Putin, has given practically no support to the Russian side. Other non-Slavic satellites, too, have no intention of active cooperation, increasingly disassociating themselves from the Russian regime. It is unclear on what basis and with what tools Putin is going to build the so-called “Russian world. It is not possible to effectively threaten everyone for the simple reason of lack of resources, and for a voluntary basis there is simply no benefit to political collaboration with Russia.

9. Russia would finally become an influential geopolitical player. Already now Russia has become the main or, if you like, mono-threat to world stability. This status and this position have nothing to do with geopolitical weight, since long-term effective influence is based on various tools and diversified competitive advantages. The Russian regime, on the other hand, has only three strategic tools with which it can exert influence and attempt to compete, exclusively by threat. These are the size of the controlled population, which is a “living weapon,” the nuclear potential, and the raw material supply of other countries. The benefits of raw material blackmail for the Russian dictatorship fall sharply, not in the strategic, but even in the short term. For example, Europe’s rejection of Russian gas and price pressure on Russian oil exports is a solution for the very near future. Russia’s nuclear potential and live-force potential are indeed serious threatening factors. However, both, one way or another, if fully applied, lead to the inevitable self-destruction of the regime and its beneficiaries, as I have repeatedly said.

Thus Russia has become a de facto pariah state, a true modern expansionist Evil Empire, with increasing refusals to cooperate in various spheres not only on the macro, but also on the micro level from most members of the global community.

10. Putin is one of the points of reference for “right-wing” politicians in the West. Putin’s image among the “right-wing” political forces in the West has greatly deteriorated, and there are far fewer opportunities for cooperation. First, public opinion in the West is clearly anti-Russian, almost across the entire spectrum of political preferences. This means that influential right-wing political forces in the West have to meet the demands of their root and potential voters who do not accept Putin’s aggression. Second, the right-wing in the West itself, unless of course we are talking about marginal parties and doctrines, is an integral part of the democratic institutional framework. They operate within the paradigm of liberal social rhetoric and Western ethics in general, despite all the conservatism of their ideology or opposition to the liberal mainstream. This means that for them there are “red lines” that, for all their sympathy for Putin and his policies, limit the “right-wing” to further endorse his actions. This leaves only pragmatic proposals of economic cooperation in the interests of potential voters, while clearly outlining their condemnation of the political vector of the Putin regime in Russia.

The same failure has happened with regard to the goals of domestic political sustainability, the main vital task of the regime. Pleasant decisions have worsened the situation and life prospects, and each successive one becomes more disastrous, regardless of its nominal rationality. This is the rutting effect. I have talked about this many times in other articles and mentioned it in this text. I will briefly list the main points again.

1. Preservation and consolidation of the status quo of the domain and the root power group. It turned out to be exactly the opposite – the competition between elite groups and claims to the superior and to each other are only intensifying. Elite groups of various interests are dissatisfied with the clear outweighing of costs incurred and the actual absence of meaningful benefits. 

2. Strengthening social consensus around the figure of the domain. Social gluing did take place in the initial stage, as long as the regime’s actions responded to the majority’s own simulated demand. An important nuance, however, is that society was glued together at the level of TV show fans, since there was no threat of physical – direct – participation by the population in the military conflict unleashed by the authorities.

The protraction and actual failure of the “special military operation” and its transformation into a war with its continued dominance as the main agenda in information content contributes to emotional and cognitive fatigue. The focus of the population’s interests is shifting, and the concentration of approval is weakening. Such approval is all the more likely to fall, and social cohesion to lose strength, as soon as the threat of physical direct or indirect involvement of the majority of the population in the war emerges. This is what we are beginning to see now, as a consequence of the announced partial mobilization.

The logical continuation will be a homogeneous process in the same rut: popular support will fall and protests will grow. Accordingly, the authorities will no longer be able to base their decisions on social legitimacy and will be forced to increase repressive pressure and expand the violent implementation of issued decrees. This is the dialectic of a dictatorship evolving into a tyranny, which has begun its shift from a regime of soft autocracy.

3. Controlling the activity of alternative opinion in a hopeless attempt to preserve social consensus leads to the inevitable repression of individuals, groups and civic formations. Under conditions of de facto mobilization, such repression becomes a signal of fear and discomfort in society, which, among other factors, destroys consensus.

4. economic sovereignty, as an imaginary goal, in reality turns into economic exclusion and promotes economic degradation, with an inevitable downward spiral of economic, technological and consumer welfare.

All these factors, among others not mentioned here, determine the irreversibility of the processes launched by the regime by erroneous and destructive decisions – both for the state and for himself. 

These decisions send the Russian dictator and his inner circle on a journey without a return ticket. The main issue now is speed and distance.