Streetwise Professor

March 5, 2012

Electing the Candidate of Stability Will Create Instability Before Long

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:05 pm

Tsar Vlad the Lachrymose has won his electoral bid to return to return to Russia’s presidency.  This result is hardly surprising (though for a while there was some question as to whether he would win in the first round).

What is interesting, and rather difficult to forecast, is how things will play out from here.

Part of the reason that it is difficult to forecast is that what happens will depend largely on how the results are interpreted and perceived.  The likely outcome depends on expectations; expectations depend on perceptions; and perceptions are fluid and subject to influence.  That is, there are multiple equilibria here.

The key issue in the near to medium term is whether it is widely perceived in Russia-and among the elite especially-whether Putin really won decisively (as he claims, winning 60+ percent), or whether a far narrower margin of victory was grossly inflated by fraud.  The more widespread the perception that Putin felt it necessary to manufacture a huge margin, the more vulnerable he will be.  In contrast, if it is widely accepted that his margin was legitimate and largely untainted by fraud, his position will be strong, at least in the near term.

Again, although what happens on the streets will be a good measure of how widespread the perception actually is, that’s not where the real action will take place. The real action will take place within and among the clans, the elites.  But continued protest will foment infighting that could destabilize the structure that Putin has built.

Putin really had a hard choice. A narrow victory would have undermined his position as the balancer among the factions among the elites. A big victory tainted by fraud would also undermine his position.  But whereas a narrow victory could not be spun any other way, Putin at least has a chance of convincing enough people that a large margin was in fact fairly won.  Hence the incentive to commit fraud was intense.

The opposition’s best strategy is to continue to hammer on the fraud issue.  Tainting Putin’s victory, using a judo move of turning the margin of victory against Putin (which would be ironic, given Putin’s judophilia), is the best way of undermining him and destabilizing the equilibrium he has established.

Over the longer term a several questions loom large.

The first is whether Putin really believes his campaign rhetoric that the opposition is subversive and traitorous, or whether that was merely babushka and muzhik bait.  If the former, things could get ugly, especially if the opposition persists in its efforts to accuse him of fraud and corruption-and in its ridicule, especially, for ridicule is deeply angering to an extremely vain man like Putin.  (And indeed, the most recent ridicule focuses on the manifestations of his vanity.)

The second is Putin’s ability to deliver on his promises, or pay the cost of doing so.  His lavish promises-most of which I predicted in the immediate aftermath of the December Duma election-are estimated to cost $160 billion, to which must be added extravagant military spending plans. These promises make him even more slavishly dependent on oil prices, a dependence which has wreaked havoc on his grandiose plans in the past: the cocaine blues phenomenon.  Conditions are quite bullish now, but there are many factors-continuing European economic problems, and slowing Chinese growth-which could turn the market bearish in short order-and as 2008 demonstrates, oil prices can plummet with alarming speed.

This, of course, gives Putin an incentive to stir the pot in the Mideast.  Not only does it feed his anti-US, anti-West obsessions, it helps pay for his extravagance by propping up the price of oil.  But even his stirring would not be enough to prevent problems if demand conditions soften, causing oil prices to soften along with them.

The third is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  People eventually tire of even the most popular politician; this is especially true when that politician’s face is ubiquitous, as is Putin’s: cults of personality sour eventually. Moreover, ambitious people grow resentful of a dominant figure that impedes their ability to advance.  And leaders in power for extended periods become tired, bored, and soft, and hence more likely to make mistakes.  They tend to become caricatures of themselves, inviting distaste-and yes, ridicule. Even in the absence of a crisis, these factors cause the phenomenon noted by Enoch Powell: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”

It is only a matter of time before that happens to Putin.  The only real question is when, and how exactly.

All of these factors suggest that Russia is in for a period of political instability.  The only way that it will escape this instability in the near to medium term is if it becomes widely accepted that Putin’s 60+ percent margin is in fact legitimate, and represents a broad popular mandate.  This will allow him to overawe those within the elite contemplating making trouble. (I should note that Putin’s order to Sechin to prepare legislation mandating “criminal proceedings against officials at state companies who fail to report incomes or ties to private businesses” is clearly a preemptive attack on those who might be thinking of mounting a challenge against Putin. He’s not taking chances.)

But that is anything but a sure thing.  Indeed, I think it is relatively unlikely.  The narrative of corruption and manipulation is too well established. And even if that comes to pass, the other factors mentioned above are likely to undermine Putin before too long, leading to instability as the factions and clans jostle for power and spoils.

The great irony, of course, is that Putin campaigned on the theme of stability, and by stoking Russian fears of chaos.  But his personalized, brittle system is inherently unstable.  It does not have the institutional foundation necessary for true stability, and cannot manage transition smoothly.  It has, in Marxist terms, serious internal contradictions that will in the not too distant future create the kind of instability that its designer promised it would prevent.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. This is my analysis.

    And this.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — March 6, 2012 @ 12:35 am

  2. Navalny was humbled on Monday night, and to his credit he has at last admitted it.

    The failure was so palpable that even some of the cheerleading reporters got the message.

    The call for new parliamentary elections failed. The call for 200,000 on the street failed. The call for a runoff for Putin failed. And the Monday night protest failed. Putin won because, first and foremost, the opposition failed to put forth a credible alternative. Whether they didn’t because they have no such alternative, no Russian Ghandi or King, or because they can’t unify behind such a person, is the only question that remains to be answered.

    And Putin won because the reprehensible, vile, reckless so-called “citizens” of Russia support him and his outrageous policies. None came forward to demand that Russian stop murdering women and children in Syria, just as Russians did not challenge Stalin while he murdered their neighbors.

    The doom the Russian people have brought down upon themselves, they richly deserve.

    Comment by La Russophobe — March 6, 2012 @ 2:46 am

  3. First link should have been:

    Comment by La Russophobe — March 6, 2012 @ 2:46 am

  4. Let’s not forget how Barack Obama played his part in making Putin a ruler for life:

    Comment by La Russophobe — March 6, 2012 @ 2:48 am

  5. Nobody cares about your fanboy Putin analysis S/O.

    No wonder your breath stinks, look at what you are kissing….

    Comment by Andrew — March 6, 2012 @ 3:02 am

  6. […] Putin’s margin and the perception […]

    Pingback by FT Alphaville » Further reading — March 6, 2012 @ 3:10 am

  7. […] Tearful Putin claims election victory – FT Alphaville Investing in Russia 2011 – FT Electing the Candidate of Stability Will Create Instability Before Long – Streetwise Professor Is A Russia Credit Downgrade Coming? – […]

    Pingback by FT Alphaville » RTS: falling faster than Putin’s tears — March 6, 2012 @ 5:51 am

  8. The “stability” that is being offered is the stability of the grave – at best the poor Rus can hope for is that the oil fueled welfare operations will help them. Indeed a dynamic, growing free economy outside of state control is by definition unstable (yes, I am an Austrian in this regard). To have such an economy and civil society would undermine his position, so his talk of growth and prosperity is inherently in conflict with the maintenance of his power. China is a different case, with a large CP apparatus in place to skim the cream and maintain a corporatist state: even their the strains are visible. A motley collection of ex security service types cannot fulfill the same function.

    Comment by sotos — March 6, 2012 @ 10:45 am

  9. Oh and SWP, Anders, RYTB et al — ya’ll must be so proud of this:

    Comment by Mr. X — March 6, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

  10. Bhalla was told by the military officials that, despite official claims to the contrary, foreign troops from NATO powers were already on the ground in Syria.

    “After a couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce [reconnaissance] missions and training opposition forces,” states the email.
    Bhalla goes on to describe how the mission of the undercover commandoes is hypothetically to “commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces [Assad’s support base], elicit collapse from within.”
    In other words, the Pentagon, along with other NATO powers, have already directed Special Forces troops stationed inside Syria to carry out terrorist attacks and assassinations in an effort to topple President President Bashar al-Assad.

    The email states that such actions should be ready within a 2-3 month time period. Bhalla describes how a destabilization campaign was favorable to air strikes because unlike Libya, “Syrian air defenses are a lot more robust and are much denser.”

    Comment by Mr. X — March 6, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  11. “This, of course, gives Putin an incentive to stir the pot in the Mideast.”

    Yep, this guy most definitely must work for Putin, stirring the pot indeed:

    Comment by Mr. X — March 6, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

  12. You know things are getting weirder and weirder when La Russophobe has a more firm grasp on electoral reality in Russia than SWP, who insists the opposition keep lying if necessary about vote rigging even where there wasn’t all that much.

    Comment by Mr. X — March 6, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  13. Not much rigging????? You are delusional! As they say you see what you want to see. The net is full of examples of rigging – ballot stuffing (all on tape),”carousel”-bussing(on tape as well),paying for votes-also on video,threats to be fired for the wrong vote(witness accounts) and many others. Yes,Putler still would’ve won but not in the first round.
    And S/O, nobody reads your stuff except “nashi” troops.Hiya!

    Comment by voroBey — March 6, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  14. […] as Craig Pirrong did on his Streetwise Professor blog: Tsar Vlad the Lachrymose has won his electoral bid to return to Russia’s presidency. This result […]

    Pingback by Russia: Anglophone Bloggers Discuss Election Fraud and Post-Election Future · Global Voices — March 6, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

  15. […] as Craig Pirrong did on his Streetwise Professor blog: Tsar Vlad the Lachrymose has won his electoral bid to return to Russia’s presidency. This result […]

    Pingback by Russia: Anglophone Bloggers Discuss Election Fraud and Post-Election Future :: Elites TV — March 6, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

  16. A Russian colleague of mine told me about the time he was working for Lukoil during a Russian presidential election. All staff were ordered to get on a bus and were then driven to a polling station where they were instructed to vote for Putin. Company supervisors then checked each person’s ballot to ensure they voted the right way. I suppose it is something that they were driven back to work and not to the next town where they repeated the process.

    Comment by Tim Newman — March 6, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  17. TIM: It’s a red herring to discuss vote fraud. Sure, Putin’s vote was overstated. But he still won comfortably. If there was any issue with the election that mattered, it was that some candidates were excluded from the ballot. But Yavlinsky has shown that liberals simply don’t draw real support even when they are on the ballot. There is no identifiable legimitimate liberal candidate who could have even made a decent showing against Putin, much less beaten him. There is no King or Gandhi in Russia today. And that is what really matters in Russia. There is no true opposition movement, and there is vast support for an evil KGB spy who is fomenting mass murder in Syria and wiping out basic civil liberties at home. The real story about today’s Russia is the reckless, malignant misconduct of the nation’s citizens.

    Comment by La Russophobe — March 7, 2012 @ 5:53 am

  18. A decent drop in oil prices will be just the ticket.

    Comment by pahoben — March 7, 2012 @ 6:47 am

  19. For sure, Putin would have won all the elections he contested comfortably without all the vote rigging and banning of candidates nonsense, which is what baffled so many observers: why do it? But blithering cack-handedness is hardly in short supply in Russia, especially amongst politicians.

    Comment by Tim Newman — March 7, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

  20. If Putin is so great, why are so many Russian kids killing themselves?

    Comment by La Russophobe — March 7, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

  21. I bet SUBLIME PSYCHOPATH will have many sleepless nights over this:

    Comment by La Russophobe — March 8, 2012 @ 3:50 am

  22. […] πρόεδρος. […] Ή, όπως ο Craig Pirrong έκανε στο blog του Streetwise Professor blog: Ο Δακρύβρεχτος Τσάρος Βλαντ κέρδισε την εκλογική […]

    Pingback by Ρωσία: Αγγλόφωνοι μπλόγκερς συζητούν για την εκλογική νοθεία και το μετεκλογικό μέλλον · Global Voices στα Ελληνικά — March 8, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  23. SWP, vote rigging is just one aspect of Lachrymose Putler’s “victory” – and, yes, there was some carousel voting, and stuffing ballots, and other techniques, including advance checking of ballots at peril of one’s job, with which Rashans are familiar.

    But there is another aspect to this “victory” which is being discussed not only in Rasha, but also in Ukraine and elsewhere:

    – who was allowed to run as opposition
    – the level of resources which the opposition had.

    E.g., Zhirinovsky is “opposition”? Practically noone thought that, as borne out by election results.

    And there was indeed a very large number of people out on the streets in Maskva – promptly “subdued” by “police.” And – It looks like Putler didn’t do so well in the voting results in Maskva.

    Russia and democracy will never meet.

    As Oleh (Alex) Tyahnybok said on the Savik Shuster in Ukraine just recently, in Rasha they have a concept of a dominant figure of authority – whether it be tsar, commissar or Putler – who is supposed to solve everything.

    Then, as usual, the people suffer. But they are willing to sell their souls to whatever thug is in power. Then they depose whoever the guy is, or he dies – and then the Rooshan Orthodox “church” or some other “church, like commienism, makes a saint out of him.

    That’s the pattern.

    La Russophobe is right –

    Russia and democracy will never meet.

    And the “citizens” get what they richly deserve.

    Comment by elmer — March 11, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  24. A little follow-up:

    If Putler’s little game is inherently unstable, the problem with the opposition was this:

    You can’t build a government in the Internet.

    In the Internet, the opposition had overwhelming support and participation. Putler was a dead man in the Internet.

    But, as this article points out:

    And as La Russophobe has pointed out previously, many, many times, the percentage of Internet users in Rasha is not that large.

    And the government controls the media.

    Although there were indeed thousands who braved the cold weather to come out against Putler, the opposition faileds to do 2 things, among others:

    1) have some sort of a program, with tactics and strategy, once the people came out – they didn’t know what to do next, and you can’t just keep shouting the same slogans over and over and over again, and nothing more

    2) the netters failed to reach out to their non-Internet neighbors.

    Russia and democracy will never meet.

    Comment by elmer — March 12, 2012 @ 8:38 am

  25. More follow-up:

    Opposition protesters in Maskva on March 10 – video:

    Comment by elmer — March 12, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

  26. A little more follow-up on “clan/family Putler” and the billions that he has stolen from Roosha (video):

    To think that Obama, the idiot, decided to press a “re-set” button with the thug.

    If the idiot moron prez of the US can lick Putler’s butt, it’s difficult to blame Rooshans for also licking Putler’s butt.

    Comment by elmer — March 12, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress