Paul Gregory

Russia and the Putin Rules: A Pessimistic Assessment

Russia’s “Moscow Winter” is eating away at Vladimir Putin’s KGB state, but it will survive. Putin will be reelected easily on March 4 for a six year term, but he will have lost the halo of popular support. His political base will shrink to those who depend on him for patronage.

He will compensate for lesser popularity with more repression. He will eliminate the last vestiges of opposition and press freedom, but he cannot tame the internet, no matter how hard he tries. He will work to prevent the emergence of a true opposition figure around whom his opponents can rally. Putin cannot produce a strong economy in a regime rooted in corruption. He will embark on an aggressive anti-Western foreign policy to divert attention from his domestic weakness.

Realize that Putin is the CEO of Kremlin, Inc., a state-capitalist network of state companies, political directorships, and offshore companies, which runs the “national champions” of industry, finance, commerce, media, and even state religion. As CEO of Kremlin, Inc., Putin’s remit is to enrich himself and fellow board members, promote state interests as defined by Kremlin, Inc., and insure political survival by all means no matter how unsavory. If the CEO falls, he threatens to pull down Kremlin Inc. with him. The powers that be cannot allow political competition. Only Kremlin Inc. can replace Putin, but with a clone. Regime opponents, basking in the afterglow of their huge demonstrations, must grasp this reality.

Putin’s first decade of rule traded economic stability (compared to the Yeltsin years) for the people ignoring his corruption, lawlessness, repression and murder of journalists and defectors, and decimation of opposition forces. Putin staked his legitimacy on the high ratings cranked out by “neutral” survey organizations. I suspect they, and the State Statistics Office, will become much less “independent” during his third term.

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