That issue in turn can be most usefully examined by asking three other questions, Shevtsova says. First, “how real is Putin’s all-powerful status and does he really continue to remain the master of the Russian ‘vertical?” That question permits only two answers: either he is or he isn’t – and depending on the answer, one’s assessment of Putin hinges.
If Putin is all-powerful, as many assume, “how is one to explain the chaos in the process of taking Kremlin decisions and the complete irresponsibility of the power apparatus?” If, on the other hand, he has become “the hostage of ‘the vertical’ he created and has lost control over it, then he is repeating the logic of many similar regimes at the point of their aging and exhaustion.”
And if in Russia, the situation has reached that point, Shevtsova says, “then one should carefully look for the process of the decentralization and collapse of the state fabric,” rather than be distracted by questions about the personality of the man who “personifies” the system because it now has a kind of life of its own.
The second question is more difficult: “In what degree can be in general judge about the intentions or goals of any leader at the stage of post-modernism?” Many of the former rules don’t apply, and things that appeared to be opposites before, like truth and lies and war and peace, now blend into each other.
“Life,” she continues, “like politics is becoming polyphonic and ambivalent,” an ideal milieu for a Kremlin “which to perfection has mastered the art of the fake and the bluff: ‘this isn’t us,’ we aren’t there,’ and so on.” In such a world, Putin’s “rhetoric and actions do not necessarily speak to his intentions.”
And the third question – “if the entire problem is in Putin, then his departure must open the way to Russia’s escape from autocracy. Is that not so?” – is the most fateful because it forces those who ask it to address the problems that Russia presents rather than assuming that they are all linked to the persona of the current ruler.
But, however one answers these three questions, Shevtsova says, one must deal with the fact that Putin is still in office and in power, “regardless of the picture of the world which exists in his head.” Many analysts, including Shevtsova, have pointed out his repeated mistakes and missteps that in the case of almost any other leader would have led to disaster.
But in the case of Putin, that is not what has happened. The people have not gone into the streets, the elites have not split, and his regime and system while making many mistakes continues to function more or less as he appears to want it.
Of course, it is possible to speak about Putin and his dreams,” Shevtsova says. This is our accustomed and favorite way of spending time. But let’s reflect too only why Putin has been able to master the logic of rotting and what method he has employed to allow for his survival” far longer than many have expected.
Because of the actuarial tables, Putin is “already on the way out, even if he for the present remains. His historic time is ending. Let’s think aobut what he has left us and what we will do with this inheritance because getting out of the current era will be much more complicated than getting out that of communism.” (emphasis supplied)