Staunton, August 15 – The Putin myth, created in 1999 to generate unquestioning support for the man behind it, has in the 20th year of his reign finally died, “the most consequential event in Russia since its creation,” Andrey Piontkovsky says, not because it means he is about to be overthrown but because without it, no one will voluntarily come to his defense.
What this means, the Russian commentator suggests, is that the population no longer views him as their defender against the bureaucracy but rather as the defender of the increasingly hated bureaucracy against them, as part of the problem rather than part of the solution (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5D5480CD951E1).
And at the same time, it means that while some in the bureaucracy may support him against the population by inertia, fear, or simple obedience, that may be enough to keep him in office for some time to come. But without what the Chinese call the mandate of heaven, Putin wll face new challenges within the elite now and can’t depend on their support in the future.
That changes the nature of political life in Russia because it in effect reduces Putin to one politician among many rather than as someone standing above the fray and means that he will be casting about for some new means of restoring the previous status quo, possibly by using nuclear blackmail against the West to show himself and his regime as special and eternal.
As often happens in authoritarian regimes, Piontkovsky continues, the ruler’s standing with the elites and the population collapses when he demonstrates “his inability to fulfill a number of basic functions” and thus becomes someone others can and will challenge rather than someone viewed as inevitable and permanent.
“For us Soviet people,” the commentator says, this recalls “the classic formula of the transition of nomenklatura power: ‘It turns out our Father isn’t a Father but a bastard.’” Many in the current elite certainly view things that way already, but their fight is going to be even more intense because unlike their Soviet predecessors, they have huge amounts of property to divide.
And that may give a new impulse to what Piontkovsky calls “the mobilization party” within the Kremlin who are convinced that the only way they can maintain themselves in this situation is by going to the brink of nuclear war in the hope that the West will blink, back down, and give Putin and themselves a new lease on power.