Sunday, October 11, 2020

Putin Increasingly More Like Gorbachev and Brezhnev than like Stalin and Ivan the Terrible, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – Vladimir Putin has been trying to be Stalin, and many see in him exactly that, Vladimir Pastukhov says; “but he isn’t Stalin” because Stalin was “a political animal” who cared only about power while “Putin values life more than power” and views power as a means to other ends, including self-enrichment.

            Stalin was an ascetic who focused on the process of politics, while Putin is a sybarite who is interested in the result rather than the game, the London-based Russian analyst says; and this has obvious and important consequences for how power is exercised in the Russian capital (

            However paradoxical it may seem, Pastukhov says, “in a certain sense, Putin is more like Gorbachev and Nicholas II than Stalin or Ivan the Terrible.” The current Kremlin leader is “a false tyrant which in no way makes the lives of those around him easier.” Indeed, it means that they must play very different roles.

            “For more than 20 years, Russia has been ruled by a man who simultaneously is tired of power and fears to let it out of his hands because in his imagination, it is the key to everything that he values, the precondition of wealth and happiness not to speak about personal security,” the London analyst continues.

            According to him, “ruling Russia for Putin has become an unwelcome burden, but he isn’t devoting time and effort to allow others to administer it. That unresolved dilemma gives the Putin era a clearly expressed neurotic shade and sets the basic parameters of contemporary Russian politics.”

            With each addition year Putin is in office, “the size of the political vacuum in the system increases” as he separates himself from day-to-day administration but continues to try to ensure that no one else takes up the levers of power that could be used against him, Pastukhov argues.

            But political life like everything else cannot tolerate a vacuum and it is being filled.

            How this can happen is shown by some recent research on Leonid Brezhnev’s rule in the 1970s. The Soviet leader wanted to reduce the amount of paper flowing to his desk for decision and in so doing he effectively handed over decision-making power to his staff who acted in his name and with an eye to his desires (

            Something similar has now happened under Putin, Pastukhov suggests.  His Presidential Administration has become increasingly like the staff of the CPSU Central Committee, an arrangement highlighted by its presence in the same place – Staraya Square – and likely to have similar consequences.

            “The central figure who today organizes the work of this simulacrum is Anton Vayno, one of the most underrated actors of present-day Russian politics.” He makes decisions for Putin but remains largely out of sight being “a virtuoso of nomenklatura games” who has outplayed many of the supposed political “heavyweights.”

            According to Pastukhov, “at the twilight of Empire, ‘the dictatorship of a leader’ inevitably is replaced by ‘a dictatorship of the referentura,’ and Vayno is the symbol of this new time, the embodiment of the political paradigm” of late Putinism. Vayno isn’t replacing Putin – a simulacrum can’t – but he is gaining power because his model doesn’t want to get involved.

            “The problem is that the apparatus not so much takes decisions for the leader as allows the leader as far as possible to stand aside from taking decisions,” Pastukhov says. Such arrangements don’t contribute to transparency or effectiveness; instead, they mean that in “the Brownian motion” within the top leadership, the aides are displacing the heavyweights.

            Under this “new Central committee staff,” the analyst says, “the country at a new level is returning to the 1990s which are becoming ever more similar to the spirit of the 1970s.” He adds that “Russia of ‘the sixth term’ is a headless horseman” where the horse decides the direction and has as its own mission that it will continue to carry the body of the horseman along.


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