Staunton, December 10 – The new “fifth” version of Vladimir Putin that is emerging is the Putin of “compromise and saving face,” of reaching agreements abroad and “cementing power within the country,” Vitaly Portnikov says. And this Putin may be the most dangerous of all for Ukraine.
Many people view the Putin of today as the Putin of tomorrow, but in fact, the Ukrainian analyst says, Putin has evolved; and his latest incarnation is very different from earlier ones. His 17 years in power have changed Russia, “but they have also changed Putin himself” and his style of rule (ru.espreso.tv/article/2017/12/08/pyat_putynykh).
There have been a minimum of five different Putin’s, with the fifth taking shape before our eyes, Portnikov says. The first Putin was “the Putin of 1999-2003,” the successor of Boris Yeltsin who was part of a team and who acted on the basis of “clan consensus.” This version ended as a result of the collapse of that consensus over the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The “second Putin” was the Putin of 2003-2008. He was “a more decisive ruler” who took ever more decisions on his own, imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime, and finally did away with competition and discussion. At the same time, he remained “a respected participant of all serious international forums.”
“But in 2008,” Portnikov continues, “Putin had to give up the post of president, formally because of the impossibility of changing the Constitution, and hand over the position to his first vice premier Dmitry Medvedev.” Thus appeared the third Putin, the Putin of 2008-2012, who stood in the background while Medvedev gave the impression of a thaw leader.
On his return to the presidency, Putin took the form of “the fourth Putin,” the Putin of the Crimean Anschluss and attacks on Ukraine, arguments with the West and “the final tightening of the screws in Russia itself. From an authoritarian regime, it began to be transformed into a totalitarian one.”
“But this Putin too is outliving its usefulness” to the Kremlin leader, and he is changing again. To understand why, one must “understand the goals of the first four. The first Putin was learning the ropes. The second was establishing his personal power. The third was retaining power. And the fourth was taking his revenge on the world.
The emerging “fifth Putin” is all about “saving the fourth, his power, influence and money,” Portnikov continues. “Therefore,” he suggests, “the fifth Putin will be the Putin of compromise and face saving, of agreements in the foreign arena and the cementing of power within the country.”
The first intimation of this was Putin’s reaction to the Olympic ban. The fourth Putin would have boycotted the games. But the fifth Putin adopted a different policy and a different tone – and those shifts, Portnikov argues, will soon be extended into other foreign and domestic policy realms as well.
“For Ukraine, however paradoxical this may soon, the fifth Putin is much more dangerous than the fourth.” That is because it will be far easier for the West to reach agreement with him than it was with “the fourth Putin, especially because there are so many in the Western establishment who want such an agreement.
And one should not imagine from his more cooperative tone that Putin has suddenly become “a well-wisher of Ukraine. No, he will try to reach agreements about us without us and seek to return his influence in our country with the help of diplomatic tricks, agents of influence, diversion and propaganda.”
And that approach is “much more dangerous than open war. The fourth Putin forced Ukraine to see that Russiaa is not a brother but an enemy and to unity in struggle with this enemy. The fifth Putin will do everything possible to destroy this consolidation.” And he is likely to have help not only from abroad but within Ukraine.