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09/06/2012 | Russian politics - Not such a strongman

The Economist Staff

The hidden weaknesses of Putin’s Russia.

 

VLADIMIR PUTIN is once more ensconced behind the Kremlin’s walls. His system, known as the “vertical of power”, seems solid enough to keep him as Russia’s president for two full terms, up to 2024 (making him the country’s longest-serving ruler since Stalin). Yet since he announced his return as president, some cracks in the façade have begun to appear.

Two new books assess the Putinist state from different perspectives, although with equally gloomy conclusions. In “The Man Without a Face” Masha Gessen, a well-known journalist in Moscow, is especially interesting on Mr Putin’s time working for the mayor of St Petersburg amid the chaos of the early 1990s. This experience, she says, proved to be “a powerful inoculation against the democratic process” for Mr Putin. It was also the place where he made his first fortune.

One feature of Mr Putin’s ascent to the presidency was that even his closest backers had little idea how he would behave. Some, including Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, were hounded out of Russia. Yet Mr Putin’s lurch to illiberal autocracy was consistent not just with his St Petersburg days but also with his career in the KGB. He was always more loyal to the Chekists and siloviki of the security services than to anything else.

Ms Gessen’s tale is marred by a tendency to believe the darkest of conspiracy theories—for example, that the Russian apartment bombings in 1999 were the work of the siloviki. She makes no allowance for Mr Putin’s popularity with ordinary Russians, most of whom preferred the stability that he brought to the more democratic chaos of Boris Yeltsin. Yet Ms Gessen’s book will be an essential source for anyone interested in the rise of Mr Putin.

Marie Mendras’s “Russian Politics” is more academic. A translated (but also updated) version of a book first published in French in 2008, it takes a longer historical sweep. One of France’s leading Russian experts, Ms Mendras points up continuities from tsarist times. Despite a history of often brutal central dictatorship, Russia has always had a very weak state. Its public institutional architecture is incomplete. Even in Soviet days local rule often counted more than Moscow.

Ms Mendras explains how these characteristics run through Mr Putin’s system. She examines the failure to establish constitutional rule after the Soviet Union collapsed, the staying power of the bureaucracy and the hollowing out of institutions. She portrays a society riddled with mistrust and corruption, which has fostered an elite around Mr Putin that has hugely enriched itself. For all his proud talk of a “sovereign democracy”, this has not been good for Russia. One poll she quotes finds 85% of Russians feeling they have no influence over how their country is run.

Hence, perhaps, those new cracks in the façade. In recent months Mr Putin has faced the biggest protests seen in Russia since communism. Emboldened, middle-class Russians, mostly in Moscow and St Petersburg, have made their anti-regime views plain, especially on the internet. As the oil price falls, Putinism’s ability to deliver rising living standards will also be at risk. In a sense both these critical books on Mr Putin’s Russia have been overtaken by recent events, as his “vertical of power” now seems more fragile—creating new doubts about whether he can stay until 2018 (let alone 2024). The “strongman”, a label given to Mr Putin in a friendlier recent book by Angus Roxburgh, may end up being rather weaker than he looks.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 


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15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House