The annexation of the Crimea was a turning point for the Russian political establishment. The fall in popularity of power, which lasted for four or five years, was stopped. In April-May, the 2014 rating of President Vladimir Putin took off and froze for a year and a half at the level of 86 – 89 percent.
The sentiments of ordinary citizens and the performance of all state institutions have improved. Grew confidence that Russia is once again becoming a great power - the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But by December of the 2014 assessment of the economic situation and hopes for the future, they sank strongly against the background of a sharp decline in oil prices and a falling ruble rate. However, by the spring of 2015, they almost returned to the pre-December level. Only towards the end of the summer did anxiety begin to grow slowly again. All this is quite clearly shown by opinion polls. And what about the Russian elites, how do they perceive what is happening, what can we expect from them in the near future and in the future?
“The task of ensuring the greatness of Russia was supported by the majority of representatives of the elites, including those who are critical of the authorities”
There is no consensus on whether it is possible to talk about “elites” in relation to the Russian situation, and about whom to attribute to them. Leading Russian sociologists Y. Levada, L. Gudkov, B. Dubin in the middle of the 2000-s wrote about “positional” or “ersatz elites”, indicating that a person’s place in the Russian hierarchy is not determined by his achievements, but by loyalty to the higher authority and the appointment of "top". Nevertheless, in working order, the “elite” was taken by an aggregate of authoritative and influential persons who occupy positions in government bodies, make and provide political decisions, influence this process due to their position in the system of governance or popularity in various public groups.
Political analyst N. Petrov also points to the decisive role of the administrative resource in the formation of the Russian ruling elite, preferring to talk about the “nomenclature” rather than the “elites”. His colleague S. Kordonsky, noting the strong dependence of Russian society on state redistribution, suggests talking about estates, among which are civil servants, the “serving class” or “power” (about 5% of the population or 7,7 million people). The top of this class - “chiefs” or “first persons” - accounts for about 0,26 percent of the population (approximately 400 thousand people). The sociologist O. Kryshtanovskaya attributes only about a thousand people to the elite or 0,08 percent of the population, to the wider category of the “political class” - about 0,2 percent. Political analyst M. Afanasyev, on the contrary, writes about the "elite of development" and refers to it most of the "middle class" (that is, 10 – 15% of the population).
There are several approaches to structuring elites. The simplest is sectoral, when the elite is divided into political, economic, military and other subgroups. In this case, you can select arbitrarily small groups, if required by the analysis. Another approach involves the functional division of the elite into "administrators", "ideologues", "legislators", "international affairs", etc. Another option for structuring the elite space is to distinguish groups based on sustainable business, kinship, career and other ties. This is the so-called clan design or model of the “Kremlin towers”. To study the progress in the immediate environment of Vladimir Putin, the “politburo” model proposed by O. Kryshtanovskaya and developed by the political strategist E. Minchenko and his colleagues is used. According to this approach, the top elite includes several dozen people, including the closest entourage of the president (several high-ranking officials, heads of state corporations and major businessmen), as well as legal, political, business and technocratic blocs, leaders of parliamentary opposition and some governors. For an empirical study of the opinions and attitudes of the elite, which for obvious reasons do not get the most influential figures, usually include representatives of the following categories: officials (federal and regional), military, special services, police and prosecutors, judges and well-known lawyers, top managers and directors of enterprises, clergymen, well-known journalists, scientists and experts.
Most researchers agree that security forces occupy key positions in the Russian ruling elite. Kryshtanovskaya was among the first to point this out, noting a large share of people from special services in Vladimir Putin’s close entourage and the massive involvement of the military in public service. N. Petrov emphasizes that “the internal corporate rules and regulations in force in the specific, power part of the state machine” (including suspicion of the outside world, active public groups, etc.) are gradually becoming characteristic of the Russian authorities as a whole. According to L. Gudkov, the power structures left over from the Soviet regime are today themselves holders of power. Having got rid of the controlling party bodies and subordinating parliament to the executive power, they received unlimited opportunities to secure their private, clan-group interests. More importantly, it is precisely the absence of horizontal (through other branches of government) and vertical (through independent media and public organizations) accountability of the executive that blocks the possibility of strategic development of the country. The only thing that power in such a composition is capable of is reproducing itself and maintaining the status quo. This conclusion, made on the research materials of the 2006 elite of the year, has not lost its relevance now.
O. Kryshtanovskaya also notes that under Vladimir Putin, the center for making strategic decisions shifted from the “economic bloc”, where he was in the years of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, to the “power” one. Thus, she and a number of other researchers conclude that the economic elite today occupies a rather subordinate place in the hierarchy, serving the functioning of the state apparatus. Its representatives lost the decisive positions that they had in 90-s, yielding them to the security forces. Very rarely, researchers, considering the Russian elites, pay attention to society, civil and protest leaders. This can be explained by the fact that during the recruitment of the elite, there is practically no exchange between the society and the political system, civil and protest leaders are on its periphery or even outside (hence the notorious concept of “non-systemic opposition”). It is interesting, however, that precisely on such public venues as A. Kudrin’s “Committee for Civil Initiatives”, M. Khodorkovsky’s “Open Russia”, A. Navalny’s “Anti-Corruption Fund” or December 12 Round Table, attempts are being made today alternative scenarios of social development.
Finally, it is worth noting such a characteristic feature of the Russian elite as the similarity of attitudes and attitudes of its representatives with the opinion of the population as a whole. This feature was repeatedly pointed out by various researchers. So, S. Tarusin, summarizing the results of the elite 2007 survey of the year, wrote that representatives of the elite "show the same tendencies as society as a whole". Earlier, the Levada Center sociologists made similar conclusions on the 2006 study, explaining that the weak differentiation of the Russian elite, “negative selection,” that is, recruiting “upward” for reasons of loyalty, not competence and achievement, reduces the overall level elite to "medium".
There is little reliable data on the mood of the elites, since this sphere is very closed. The last quantitative surveys of representatives of the Russian elite known to the author of these lines were conducted at the beginning of the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev. Therefore, one can judge about the attitudes of elites only by indirect data: public statements by officials, in-depth research interviews with officials and experts, as well as by extrapolating the results of previous surveys on the current situation.
Empty talk of liberalization
One of the latest available polls of representatives of the elite was conducted by the company "Nikkolo-M" in 2008. According to the study, M. Afanasyev singled out several points of elite consensus: public investment in human capital, political competition, separation of powers, liberalization of the party system, selection of regional heads in one form or another, not their purpose, development of local government independence. All this allowed the sociologist to conclude that the Russian elites are almost half “liberal”. The only group that wanted to further tighten the policy was the representatives of the special services. The majority of respondents, on the contrary, believed that the measures to strengthen the vertical of power could not improve management efficiency and the security forces were unable to put forward a “consolidating idea”.
How to explain that now almost none of the indicated points has been implemented? You can probably talk about the readiness of elites to support any dominant ideology (recall that it was at the beginning of 2008 that Dmitry Medvedev said that “freedom is better than non-freedom”). Another survey, conducted a year later, found support by the elites for a course on "sovereign democracy", while a significant part of the respondents, by their own admission, only vaguely understood what is meant by this concept. In the words of the Soviet joke, the Russian elite are ready to "hesitate along with the party line." The arguments about the separation of powers, liberalization, and political competition turn out to be for elites empty formulas devoid of content.
However, during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, a small part of the elites nevertheless united around the Institute for Contemporary Development (INSOR) and the development of the Strategy-2020 concept of the long-term socio-economic development of Russia, betting on the gradual liberalization of the Russian regime. At the same time, most of them supported Medvedev's liberalization only in words. What M. Afanasyev took for liberalism of the elites, apparently, was the most common preference for a calm and relaxed existence - the hope of deliverance from the rigid "vertical of power".
If such hopes existed at the end of the 2000s, they were not destined to come true. Today, human rights defenders who, by the nature of their work, interact with civil servants, and officials themselves regularly tell us in an interview that they are “intimidated” by the prosecutor's office, relevant committees, intelligence agencies, superiors: “They are afraid and that's it!”. Probably, current campaigns to expose corruption in the Russian regions, among mayors and governors can be perceived as a means of keeping elites in constant tension. This does not add to the love of the federal center. But we have to conclude that the security forces were able to impose their agenda on the elites against their will, despite the fact that they were in the minority. In the elites there was no group comparable in organization and influence with the security forces. It is unlikely that such a force exists today.
It is often said that Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, and with it the new rise of the security forces, was the result of the “Arab spring” and the fall of authoritarian regimes in North African countries (Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya). The real and fictional role of Western countries in these events, the behavior of local elites, some of which went over to the side of the protesters, should have greatly alarmed the Russian ruling elite, because in the end the new Arab governments were largely composed of former officials and military who “changed” authoritarian leaders in time . Note that similar processes were typical for the “color revolutions” of the middle 2000-s and for euromaidan in Kiev. And each time - at the beginning of 2000-x, in 2011 and 2014-m - the struggle of citizens for new freedoms in other countries provoked the Russian leadership to tighten pressure on society. At first, the “color revolutions” caused the first persecutions of foreign foundations and non-profit organizations, the organization of pro-Kremlin youth movements. Then the events of the “Arab Spring” and the protests in Russia itself led to the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency and the pursuit of a policy to pacify society. Euromaidan became a pretext not only for Crimea joining and Russian support for Donbass militias, but also for a new round of government pressure on society (massive propaganda on television, closing a number of independent media, a new stage in the search for foreign agents, the creation of the pro-Kremlin Antimaidan movement).
Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin took place against the backdrop of a gradual accumulation of public discontent with power caused by a downturn in the economy. A series of political scandals and the "castling" of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev provoked a protest vote. According to the results of the 2011 election, the number of seats that United Russia won fell from 315 to 238. The remaining parties increased the number of mandates. The voting results caused fierce disputes within the “Fair Russia”, and some of its deputies joined the protest in the hope of increasing their political capital. At the first protest actions, one could see some oligarchs and officials, not to mention well-known writers and journalists. Many thought that the Russian elite had split.
However, the government quickly suppressed the protest movement, which sent a signal to the population and elites that there was no alternative. Inside the rebellious "Fair Russia" discipline was restored, the deputies G. Gudkov and I. Ponomarev lost their seats in the State Duma. Some well-known bloggers and political activists were forced to go abroad in order to avoid criminal prosecution (later hundreds of representatives of the “creative class”, who had lost hope of democratic changes in the country, followed up). Elites who sympathized with the slogans of the protest movement, or hoping to earn extra political capital from this, received a good lesson and a vaccination for the future. However, the Russian regime was able to regain the lost support of the population and elites only after the annexation of the Crimea.
The “small victorious war” should sharply increase the self-esteem of the army and special services, who were able to quickly and bloodlessly carry out the operation, and at the same time guarantee their loyalty to the regime. In the eyes of the majority of the population and part of the elites, the annexation of the Crimea testified to the restoration of the great-power role of the country in the international arena. Recall that according to the results of a survey of representatives of elites in 2006, the task of ensuring the “greatness of Russia” was supported by the majority, including those critical of the government. The elites and the population agreed that if an idea could unite the country, it would be “the return of the status of a great power to Russia”. And it can be said that after the annexation of the Crimea, for several months the unity of the authorities and the population was indeed observed. A sense of satisfaction and self-worth was read in the eyes of elite representatives who gathered on March 18 2014 in the Grand Kremlin Palace for the signing ceremony of the agreement on the entry of Crimea and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation. Later, similar emotions had to be seen more than once on the faces of ordinary people discussing what happened in focus groups.
Of course, among the representatives of the elite were dissatisfied with the annexation of the Crimea - first of all among those who could appreciate the subsequent reaction of the world community. So, on the sidelines of an international conference, the author had a chance to hear a Russian official grumbled about how quickly and carelessly the referendum was held in Crimea. However, another thing is important: for a long time, not a single public word of criticism was heard from representatives of the authorities and elites close to it. On the issue of accession, the state’s huge bureaucratic machinery worked as a single mechanism, ranging from a military special operation to the allocation of additional funding and the building of social infrastructure on the peninsula.
Prevention of disagreements within the government probably played a role in maintaining the unity of opinions (recall the dismissal of A. Kudrin from the post of Minister of Finance and S. Belyakov from the post of Deputy Minister of Economic Development after they expressed public disagreement with the decisions taken), but rather effective actions regarding the integration of Crimea in The composition of Russia speaks about the high proportion of internal agreement of the elites with the decision.
Anti-Western sentiments are not only characteristic of the security forces and the country's top leaders (although this is hardly characteristic of their children living in the West). Such sentiments permeate the lower echelons of elites fairly tightly. In one of the research interviews, a Russian official said that among his European colleagues the term “competitor” has been sounding for many years: “The mood is that if they have at least made some progress, this is bad and if the Europeans do something, then that think up against Russia ". Other characteristic reproaches to the West, which we hear from public figures, are as follows: “They constantly teach us something,” “They don't want to talk to us on an equal footing”, “They do not respect our legitimate interests.”
After the annexation of the Crimea and the ensuing war of sanctions, these sentiments spilled out. B. Dubin was one of the first to point out this: “With great relief, everyone broke up with ideas about the West, this happened partly with Vladimir Putin, partly with the groups behind him, partly with the Russian elites ... but to an even greater degree characteristic of the masses. " Finally, you could not pretend and become yourself. What was previously considered indecent to speak out loud has now become possible and even correctly stated publicly. The need to live in a multipolar world, to take into account the opinion of partners, to recognize their backwardness in many ways was a significant inconvenience, and to representatives of the Russian elite even to a greater degree than an ordinary person. Now these voltages were removed in the most primitive way.
A series of interviews with Russian officials, journalists and experts about the problems of relations between Russia and Europe, held this year, suggests: the main conflict over the difference in values is not at all different views on the rights of sexual minorities, etc. (although a significant part of the Russian elite , like the majority of the population, certainly sincere in their homophobia). Conflict occurs when Western countries begin to talk about values directly with the Russian population, with its individual groups on top of bureaucratic heads. The authorities are irritated not so much by the fact of the existence of another opinion, but by the attempt at what they consider to be their monopoly right. It seems that the described approach is also valid in relation to international relations: in the territories that the Russian authorities consider to be a zone of their “vital interests” (for example, in the republics of the former USSR), it is not ready to tolerate any other influence.
It is necessary to clarify that the anti-Americanism of the elite is not just a game on the mood of the majority. Such sentiments are inherent in the top of the Russian government, which is subject to the same fears, myths and complexes as the population as a whole. Many of them are the result of the traumatic collapse of the Soviet Union and the phantom pains over the lost status of a “great power”. Today, the public expression of anti-Americanism and the support of the annexation of the Crimea by representatives of the elites are becoming a ritual of confirming loyalty to the political regime. Those who are against the Crimea and for improving relations with the West are strangers. Who is behind the Crimea and emphasizes his anti-Americanism - his own.
The ongoing confrontation with the West, information wars, support for the republics of Donbass gives additional legitimacy to the security forces in the political system, and also justifies their use of emergency measures. Thus, confrontation with an external opponent implies the search for internal enemies: all kinds of “foreign agents”, “national traitors”, and “fifth column”.
Separately, it is necessary to say how the accession of Crimea influenced the state of the non-systemic opposition, which was not included in the management system. In large cities, primarily in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the core of the protest movement was formed by representatives of the liberal professions, it included many who can be attributed to the creative elite. After the mass actions of 2011 – 2012, the core of the protest movement increased to several thousand people. At the same time, the inability to develop an alternative political agenda that is attractive to the broad strata, and a series of propaganda campaigns by the authorities to discredit protests led to the non-systemic leaders and the core of their supporters being isolated from the general population. It is important to understand that civil and opposition leaders only provided peaceful forms of protest. People were taken first to the polling stations, and then to the streets of large cities, not politicians, but the general discontent of at least one third of the population of the country with the actions of the authorities (this was indicated by the very low ratings at the end of 2011). The moods of a significant part of citizens and opposition political forces coincided by chance and only for a short time, after which they diverged again.
The main result of the annexation of the Crimea for the protest public is that this step dramatically increased the authority of the authorities in the eyes of the population. Monitoring public opinion shows that power ratings are a better criterion for the likelihood of mass protests than questions about people's willingness to protest. And while the ratings remain high (in other words, the proportion of people who are negatively disposed towards the government is small), only separate disparate actions are possible. Without much dissatisfaction with the government, there will be no mass protests, no matter what tricks the opposition leaders may take.
The Crimean operation and the war in Ukraine became an effective tool with which the government was able to split the core of the protest from the inside. Not only limonovtsy and nationalists of various persuasions separated from him. The delimitation of the "quilted jackets" and the "fifth column" passed within the democratically and liberal-minded public, as well as within the creative elite. The main effect of this split is that for some time he paralyzed the possibility of solidarity of protest leaders with the main masses of the population. Only now the intensity of this hostility begins to subside.
Returning to the issue of power ratings, I would venture to suggest that they hypnotically affect the elites (both protest and loyal). The elites are better than ordinary citizens aware of and understand the events taking place. They are among the seven to eight percent of the population that consume information from most of the available sources. Therefore, reports on rating fluctuations, if they can affect someone, then it is on the elites - the overwhelming majority of the population is simply not interested.
It’s hard to imagine how many fierce reproaches the Levada Center employees should hear from representatives of the “liberal public” about the fact that with regular ratings ratings he “supports the Putin regime” and “demoralizes a decent public”. It can therefore be assumed that if a high “post-Crimean” rating “demoralizes” one part of the Russian elites, then the other should unite it. And while the president is supported by the overwhelming majority of the population, the elites are unlikely to dare to revolt. Only a strong decrease in ratings will make them bolder. However, today protest leaders and activists do not pose a serious threat to the political system.
For the economy - do not panic
The economic crisis and Western sanctions should undermine the loyalty of elites to the country's leadership, but only in the long term. For some representatives of the Russian elite, the threat of personal sanctions becomes a hindrance to businesses that don’t want to sacrifice. But no one runs the risk of contradicting the general line. On the other hand, for some elites, the sanctions turned into additional profit opportunities.
One of the sources of information about the attitudes of elites are public statements by key ministers (for example, during the St. Petersburg Economic Forum), supplemented by separate research interviews with officials. From this, it seems that the “technocrats” in the government and representatives of the economic elite (heads of various funds, banks, etc.) generally assess the situation adequately, speak about the negative consequences of sanctions. Maybe they could offer a more ambitious program to get out of the crisis, but they are limited to the decisions of top political leadership.
Their main point is to maintain social stability, ensure geopolitical ambitions and the desire to retain full power in their hands as long as possible. Therefore, it constantly seems that many economic decisions are made with some delay, when it is no longer possible to postpone, which indicates both the inefficiency of the political system (since it is impossible to act quickly and with maximum efficiency), and the regime’s readiness to adapt to changing conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to accept some recommendations of experts of the economic bloc, which by no means implies readiness for democratic reforms. All this allows us to conclude that the Russian political system has a margin of safety.
The mood of "technocrats" can be compared with the mood of bourgeois specialists in the early Soviet government. This is a kind of mixture of doom, awareness of their own powerlessness to change the general line and readiness to do their job with the goal of “minimizing risks”, that is, the mood of “hired specialists” in the service of the state. At the same time, they receive wages “at the market level” for their services, which helps to cope with the resulting stresses. The mood of "technocrats" is important to consider, but you need to be aware that making key decisions belongs to other people.
If you leave out the very top of the elite, you can imagine the mood of this stratum using the results of public opinion polls (if you understand the approximateness of such an assessment). In the sample of the Levada Center, a group of “leaders” can be distinguished, which includes both managers and directors and above. This is one of the most prosperous and well-to-do groups, and informationally it is one of the most advanced. Leaders are about twice as likely to read newspapers and news on the Internet, “independent” TV channels are watching, but even here the media with the official agenda prevail.
Nevertheless, the support of the government and its key decisions - the approval of the president, the government, the accession of the Crimea - is as high in the group as it is among the population as a whole (but not above average). At the same time, Vladimir Putin is here, as in the average for the sample, almost half of the respondents are responsible for both successes and failures. However, in the elections, representatives of this group would rather support United Russia than any other parties. Among the “leaders” there is a little more sympathy for such representatives of the opposition as A. Navalny, M. Kasyanov, M. Khodorkovsky, but in general this group is even more biased and hostile to the opposition than the population on average. The opinion of the "leaders", as well as other most informed groups of the population, is rather polarized.
The “leaders” express their concern above all with economic problems, such as rising prices, unemployment, a depreciation of the ruble (the latter is spoken about twice as often as the average in the sample). In general, they are more informed and competent than the general population, and therefore are more likely to soberly assess existing problems. They are quite skeptical about the state of affairs in the domestic economy and politics, towards the country's achievements in the international arena. However, with all the awareness, the “leaders” do not show any particular anxiety or panic - they have an even and calm mood, the majority believes that things are going in the right direction.
It can be said that this group has no illusions about the present state of affairs, does not believe in correcting the situation, but believes that on an individual basis - due to its position, connections, accumulated resources - can better adapt to the deterioration of life. The confidence that management is keeping the situation under control and being able to find a way out seems to be still widespread among the elites. The time for discontent within the elites about the deterioration of the economic situation has not yet come.
In the long run, the continuous deterioration of the economic situation may ultimately provoke elite splits. The point is not only whether the regime is considered to be able to cope with economic difficulties. The loyalty of a significant part of the elites is based on their direct bribing by the authorities: on high wages, on opportunities for assimilating government orders, various kinds of subsidies, subsidies. All this is characteristic of both the highest level and lower. For example, the head of the territorial self-government organization (TOC) told in one of the research interviews how a buyout of the leadership of the TOC by the party in power occurs in his city. According to him, for the work they need a little funding, which in the near future can only come from the hands of United Russia. Accordingly, only those who will help provide the ruling party with the desired result in the elections will receive this funding.
As the budget pie shrinks, the risk that entire layers and groups (both elite and social) begin to split off the regime, intra-elite conflicts will multiply. The main strategy of the government, it seems, will be to reduce budget expenditures in the least critical areas, and priority will be given to law enforcement agencies and state employees - their location is necessary for the country's leadership in the first place. That is, if the government cannot prevent discontent and splits within the elites, it will try to make it happen in a form that is safe for it.
In conclusion, let us try to answer the question that worries the minds of many analysts: will the sanctions and the deterioration of the economic situation lead to a change of power in Russia or, to be more precise, is a plot of elites possible in the country and, as a result, a “palace coup”? The fact that talking about such a scenario does not subside over the last couple of years is remarkable in itself. Even President Vladimir Putin found it necessary to answer such a question during one of his press conferences.
In the light of the above, it seems that the most organized force within the Russian political system are the security forces. At the same time, current events - confrontation with the West, informational wars, sluggish conflict in the east of Ukraine, an operation in Syria, the need to tame the awakening social activity at home - provide Russian security forces with additional powers and significance. This is their time. It is unlikely that they are interested in radical changes, rather it is beneficial for them to leave everything as it is. And while Vladimir Putin maintains a high rating, in the eyes of a significant part of the elites, he will remain the most suitable arbiter. Further tightening of the situation and tightening the screws is likely, but most likely it will meet the resistance of most of the elites, whose main desire is the desire for a calm and comfortable life. An open expression of discontent is hardly possible. More likely to quiet sabotage decisions of the central government.
As the events of 2008 – 2011 showed, the liberal-minded part of the elite was not able to withstand the new rise of the siloviki. There are dissatisfied with the situation today, but they are silent or express their opinions in a private setting. Dissatisfaction is concentrated primarily among those who understand the alarming state of the Russian economy and associate their interests with the global world. However, the public expression of such moods puts their position within the system at risk. People with such a worldview and sentiments in the elites are today in the minority and do not make key decisions, but only ensure their execution and are unlikely to have the potential for collective action. They have before their eyes the regular hardware cleansing of the dissenters and the recent defeat of the "rebels", who in 2011 – 2012 bet on the protest movement.
The situation can change only as a result of a protracted economic crisis. Long-term problems can shake the confidence of elites that management is able to keep the situation under control. The disappearance of confidence in the future and a decline in the well-being of the population will inevitably lead to a decrease in support for the government and an increase in protest sentiment. Under these conditions, elites will feel freer and bolder. But it seems that even then the security forces will play a key role. The fate of the current government will depend on their goodwill and controllability.