Staunton, September 4 – Vladimir Putin became a full-fledged dictator only with the Anschluss of Crimea, a decision he says he took on his own. But it is already clear that the Kremlin leader lacks the necessary inclinations to be a successful one and that he is likely to “end poorly” as a result, according to Moscow commentator Igor Eidman.
Successful dictators, Eidman suggests, are those who “rule a long time and die in their own beds.” Among examples from Russian history are Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Joseph Stalin. But there is no reason to think that Putin will join their ranks on the basis of either of these requirements (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=55E86B9D61AFD).
From antiquity to today, the commentator says, “successful dictators have attempted to present themselves as defenders of the people from the arbitrary actions of ‘the strong and the rich.’ They have terrorized not only their personal enemies and simple people but also the privileged ruling heights of society, including their own entourages.”
Dictators who present themselves as the destroyers of a hated inherited or party “aristocracy” fulfill “the secret dreams of the people about justice.” And because they do, “the peoples [are] ready to tolerate deprivations and difficulties” that otherwise they would find insupportable.
The residents of such countries calculate in approximately the following manner, Eidman says. Yes, our ruler is severe, “but he is just” and is ready to punish those around him who are oppressing the people. “All this guarantees the stability of the dictatorship and the loyalty of the population to it.”
But two recent events show that Putin isn’t following that rule for successful dictators. On the one hand, he oversaw the “wild and truly Stalinist sentence to Sentsov, the anti-Putin film director.” Andon the other, he released in “an extremely liberal” way “the former highly placed bureaucrat Vasilyeva, who is hated by many ordinary Russians.”
By so doing, Putin “yet again showed that he is no Stalin.” Instead, he has proved to be “a harsh tyrant toward his enemies but a soft kitchen to his comrades in arms, their wives, children and mistresses.” And as a result, Russian society had a chance to be convinced that Putin “defends the interests of his ‘boyars’” however much they offend the people.
That however isn’t even the main thing, Eidman says. “A dictator whether he wants it or not when conducting ambitious and aggressive policies necessarily imposes deprevations not only on the people but also on the ruling heights.” And today, in “a ricochet of Putin’s Ukrainian aggression,” all of Russia is suffering.
Those near the top of any political system are “ungrateful and selfish,” Eidman writes; and they are prepared to turn on the dictator in behalf of their own interests when the opportunity presents itself. The successful dictator has to protect himself against that by terrorizing his own oligarchy. Otherwise it will at some point turn on him.
Stalin remained in power during the defeats of the first months of World War II “only because his entourage was frightened and completely demoralized by terror.” But Mussolini, in contrast, “didn’t terrorize his entourage” and left them feeling beyond his reach. Consequently, when it suited them, they dispensed with the Italian dictator.
The same thing ultimately happened to Nikita Khrushchev because those around him felt that they were beyond punishment and thus could when he went too far push him from office. And Leonid Brezhnev who succeeded him survived because he was as everyone knew “only the first party oligarch and not a dictator taking fateful unilateral decisions on his own” as Putin has.
“The current Russian dictator,” Eidman says, “has given the local beau monde carte blanche for illegal enrichment and a luxurious life. However, his aggressive foreign policy course is creating problems for the ruling elite, which could sacrifice its boss if it feels that would be profitable.”
To be successful, Putin would have to be terrorizing precisely those people and thus gaining the support of the lower strata of the population “which would sympathize with any punitive measures toward the hated ‘bosses’ and ‘rich guys.’” That would allow him to mobilize the population against the rich and powerful.
But that is not the strategy of rule Putin has chosen, Eidman says. Instead, as “the liberation of Vasilyeva has demonstrated yet again,” the current Kremlin ruler, despite his dictatorial aspirations, doesn’t have it in him to be “a successful dictator.”
Because of his approach, Putin’s “authority is threatened from two directions: the loss of support of the population” angered by what his policies are doing to them and by his failure to come down hard on the hated bosses, and a palace coup by the latter. Given that, Eidman says, Putin can’t count on remaining in power for long or dying in his own bed.