Events and trends in the Russian Federation over the week of October 22nd – 28th
1. The recent statements of the Russian energy companies’ leaders about the deep crisis in Europe are only an understanding of the failure of their pressuring policy on Europe. Indeed, both the West and Russia understand that it will be impossible to abandon Russian energy carriers as soon as tomorrow completely. But the fact that the volume of exports of Russian energy carriers will fall is also evident. This is the critical reason for the statement that excluding Russia from the energy market should lead only to inflation, crisis, and freezing of relations.
2. Iran and Russia are not strategic allies. The two states formed a situational partnership conditioned by regional and international circumstances, as well as the internal situation in Iran itself. The arms deal between the Russian Federation and Iran is not money but a full-fledged agreement that covers technology transfer, Iran’s nuclear program, and cooperation in Syria.
3. Over the last weeks, the position of the Prime Minister of Russia, M. Mishustin, has somewhat strengthened in the hierarchy of the Russian authorities. He will likely lead the Russian delegation at the G20 summit in Indonesia on November 15-16th. At the same time, discussions about a possible successor to V. Putin and the transfer of power are intensifying in Russia. If V. Putin leaves office for one reason or another, competition for his place will immediately begin in the various groups of influence.
4. The changing influence among key groups in Putin’s entourage continues in Russia. In addition, some of the processes go into the media field (which, given the control over the media, can be considered an important sign). The key reason for this process is the lack of success in the war against Ukraine. But suppose one goes down on one level, from the general formulation to individual directions. In that case, we can highlight the following: the course of the war demonstrated mistakes (or the inability to give an adequate assessment) in the work of the special services in the Ukrainian direction. It reduces the level of influence, for example, of the FSB and SZR; the lack of military success during the summer months, multiplied by the defeat in September-early October, demonstrates the inability of the military command to solve the issue with successful actions at the front and reduces the overall confidence in the army leadership.
An old technique of Russian energy propaganda
On October 27th, the head of Russia’s Rosneft, Igor Sechin, delivered a speech at the 15th Verona Eurasian Economic Forum, which the Russian media already began to call a program speech. In addition, unlike previous years, the forum was held not in Italy but in Baku, which in Russia is also called a landmark event, namely: rethinking the role of Russia not as the east of Europe but the north of Eurasia. At the same time, the Russian media hushed up the fact that Sechin, like many other top representatives of Russian energy companies, is under the sanctions of the European Union and cannot visit it freely.
In his speech, Sechin once again voiced the manipulations that Russian officials have been resorting to for a long time. In particular, he considers the cause of the energy crisis, not the COVID-19 pandemic, not the war in Ukraine, but renewable energy resources and underinvestment in hydrocarbons. The message that renewable energy is to blame for the energy crisis was repeatedly voiced by Vladimir Putin last year when Russia reduced the volume of gas supplies to the European Union, demanding the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline launch. Dmitry Medvedev voiced the same messages in 2012 as the president of the Russian Federation, when Russia once again provoked an energy crisis in the CE with undersupply, albeit on a significantly smaller scale.
Moscow’s accusation of renewable energy is not surprising. Previously, Vladimir Putin called it one of the biggest threats to Russia’s national security, half of whose export revenues come from oil and gas.
Sechin said that a deep crisis awaits Europe without Russian energy resources. It is not the first statement of this type in the last month from Russia: a week earlier, the head of Gazprom, Aleksey Miller, issued apocalyptic predictions that dozens and dozens of European cities would freeze without Russian gas in the winter. Interestingly, this statement appeared in the light of the almost complete filling of gas storage in Europe, which caused an excess supply of LNG and a drop in gas prices in Europe. Because the countries of the European Union have managed to stock up on gas and have developed plans to save resources, it is clear that it is possible to pass the winter without critical problems. Although, of course, with considerable energy subsidies and certain economic losses.
Interestingly, Sechin’s message was announced a month and a half before the embargo on Russian oil. Statements about the collapse of Europe appeared only now – more than six months after the announcement of sanctions and intentions to abandon Russian energy carriers. During the spring and summer, Russia resorted to energy blackmail, reducing the volume of natural gas supplies to Europe. The EU did not give in to this blackmail, developing plans to save energy resources. Thus, the recent statements of the heads of Russian energy companies about a deep crisis in Europe are only an understanding of the failure of their policy of pressure on Europe. Of course, the West and Russia understand that it will be impossible to abandon Russian energy carriers as soon as tomorrow completely. But the fact that the volume of exports of Russian energy carriers will fall is also understandable. It is the key reason for the statement that excluding Russia from the energy market should lead only to inflation, crisis, and freezing of relations.
Russian elites: a way out of statics
Background and problem description
The process of changing influence among key groups surrounding Vladimir Putin continues in the Russian Federation. In addition, some of the processes go into the media field (which, given the control over the media, can be considered an important sign). The key reason for this process is the lack of success in the war against Ukraine. But if one goes down on one level, from the general formulation to individual directions, we can highlight the following:
- The course of the war demonstrated mistakes (or the inability to give an adequate assessment) in the work of the special services in the Ukrainian direction. This reduces the level of influence, for example, of the FSB and Foreign Intelligence Service;
- The lack of military success during the summer months, multiplied by the defeat in September-early October, demonstrates the inability of the military command to solve the problem with successful actions at the front. This reduces confidence in the army leadership;
- Attempts to negotiate with the EU, using blackmail of hydrocarbon supplies, failed. If Gazprom (more precisely, the Gazprom-Novatek group) has alternative projects (Turkey, China), Rosneft has more worrying prospects;
- The announced mobilization led to a mass migration of young men from the country;
- The activation of the radical part of Russian society and the development of the Telegram channels of the “warfighters” demonstrated the gaps in the established system of control in the media field.
Separately, the policy of raising stakes and nuclear blackmail is worth noting. The idea of forcing the EU countries and the USA to go to consultations in light of talks about the possible use of a tactical nuclear strike or fear of a “dirty bomb” does not give results. In addition, similar theses did not find understanding even in the states on whose support the Russian Federation counts, such as China and Turkey.
The Kremlin raised the stakes as much as possible, trying to get on the path to negotiations, at least to freeze the conflict. And the lack of success forces either to resort to extreme measures or to try to eliminate possible internal political problems – Russian society is not ready for “defeat”.
In light of all the above, several questions can be formulated:
- Is the struggle for influence among elite groups evidence the beginning of an internal political crisis in the Russian Federation?
- Are the key groups in the Russian leadership considering options for existence “without Putin” and mechanisms for determining his successor?
Indeed, to summarize, the processes in the top Russian leadership can be characterized approximately by the following formula:
- Yeltsin’s “family” group, which is completely removed from decision-making (and is on the verge of collapse);
- Rosneft group is losing its influence, and there is a crisis of confidence in the group of security forces. First of all, among the intelligence and military leadership. At the same time, during this war, the security forces cannot lose their influence since they are a key resource for ensuring the conduct of hostilities;
- Despite the failure of the “gas blackmail” policy, the Gazprom group (+ Novatek) retained its influence, although it lost the opportunity to “gain political weight”. The Military Industry Group also maintains its power without the possibility of growth.
- Conditional technocrats (Gref-Kirienko), on the contrary, are increasing their influence inside Russia but so far do not seek to interfere in the foreign policy agenda, the key contours of which are personally outlined by V. Putin;
- A crisis in the coverage of the two poles of Russia’s social-political projects — conditional “liberals” and “radicals”.
Given the listed processes in Putin’s entourage, it is still too early to talk about the beginning of a political crisis. Moreover, the mobilization and the “joining of territories” give a head start on the positive mood of the society for about 4-5 months. The population will wait for “changes” as a result of the appearance of those mobilized at the front but will be ready for theses about “unfavorable weather” (autumn with rains, winter) as an explanation for the lack of visible successes.
Against this background, key groups of elites prefer to work on strengthening their influence rather than creating coalitions that lead to replacing Putin with another figure. At this stage, it is instead the opposite – they are trying to use sharp rhetoric to demonstrate that the current president of the Russian Federation is the only “adequate” contact for the EU and the USA. The exception to this rule is, perhaps, the Prime Minister of Russia, Mishustin.
Another factor preventing the “palace coup” is the lack of alternative ideologues. Putin plays on theses of “restoration of greatness”, “Russia as an empire,” and “struggle for the future of the country”. In light of the war, the Russian elites currently have no alternatives that will defeat the imperial sentiments of the citizens. That is, Putin’s change is possible either on the same ideological foundation or due to a complete denial of theses, which is possible only under the conditions of Russia’s defeat.
Therefore, there is no answer to the question about the beginning of the internal political crisis, nor answer to the question of finding a successor.
On the other hand, all existing groups of elites (with the possible exception of Prigozhin, Kadyrov, Nechaev, and others) have a common interest in preserving the foundations of the current power configuration. That is their own influence. Therefore, in the case of, for example, Putin’s death or a defeat in the war, which will be accompanied by his departure (voluntariness does not play a role here), the question of the successor can be formulated as “the search for a person from within the system who is not under the influence of only one group (and will be forced to listen to all), but at the same time not strong enough to form its clan or repeat Putin’s path.