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Posts : 20482
Join date : 2015-05-20
Location : United States

Putin is weak. The Russian strongman is terrified of losing control. He should be. Empty Putin is weak. The Russian strongman is terrified of losing control. He should be.

on Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:16 pm
This March, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a series of public appearances, and the world promptly seemed to lose its collective mind. Everyone from Russians on social media to mainstream Western journalists speculated wildly about why Putin had "disappeared." Could he be ill? Incapacitated by a stroke? Dead?

After several days passed and Putin failed to surface, the theories grew more exotic. Was this the result of a "silent coup" by the security services? Was there a conspiracy to keep it all quiet? How deep does this go?

Not particularly deep, as it turned out. Putin reappeared a few days later, looking a little pale but otherwise thoroughly alive and un-couped. Although he never offered an official explanation, his waxy pallor suggested he had perhaps been waylaid by a bout of the flu.

Table of contents
I. Putin's crisis
II. Putin's fear
III. Putin's solution
IV. Putin's ally
V. After Putin
The ferocity with which the rumors had swirled — and the fact that the reasons for his disappearance remained secret — was revealing. Underlying the incident was an unspoken fear: that the Russian system, and Putin's hold over it, might be more fragile than it seems. The second there were even suggestions of Putin's ill health, it suddenly seemed reasonable to doubt the health of his entire regime.

And so this spring I traveled to Russia to try to answer a question that until recently might have seemed rather silly: Is Putin weak, or is he strong?

From what you see about Putin in the headlines every day, you might reasonably conclude that it is naive to even ask the question. After all, in between macho, shirtless photo ops, the man has annexed the Crimean peninsula, backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and crushed or co-opted Russia's political opposition, all while allegedly enriching himself by millions or even billions of dollars via corrupt insider dealings.

To the casual observer, those measures seem like signs of strength, indications of a regime that is unchecked by fear of the international community or political opposition, and of a president whose ego is unburdened by the sort of natural shame one might expect a 60-something politician to feel about posing topless.

But appearances can be deceiving, and in the case of Putin's strength, that deception is precisely the point. Those shows of strength actually mask deep, systemic weaknesses.

Long-term strength is being sacrificed for short-term stability.
And weakness is precisely what you will find if you scratch the surface of Putin's rule over Russia: The more I looked, the clearer it became that the Russian strongman and his system of government are operating out of deep insecurity.

One thing you notice quickly in Moscow is the ease with which conversations will turn to predictions of dire and imminent catastrophe, from economic collapse to civil war. Those predictions are often overheated, and to some degree seem like leftovers from the chaos of the 1990s. But they speak to a widespread sense that the system is barely holding together, that it could all come crashing down, and that if it did the results would be unpredictable and potentially disastrous.

To address this, Putin has pursued political tactics that keep him in power in the short term but, in the long term, are creating serious and potentially unsolvable problems for both him and Russia. To be clear, it would go too far to say that the end is nigh for Putin. So far, his short-term tactics have worked: Russia is totally centralized around his rule. He is by far the most powerful individual in that country.

But those tactics of centralizing and strengthening his own power today no matter the long-term costs tomorrow may have worked too well — as the March scare over his disappearance showed. Over time, the more often he's had to play that game, the more extreme his short-term solutions have become, and the more severe the side effects they’ve produced. And each time he does that, it makes the Russian political system less resilient. Long-term strength is being sacrificed for short-term stability. The costs of those solutions are growing higher and higher. And eventually he will no longer be able to pay them.

I. Putin's crisis: The moment he discovered his legitimacy could slip away.................

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