Friday, February 5, 2016

Surrounding Himself with the Outrageous and the Incompetent, Putin Keeps Himself in Power, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – Vladimir Putin’s tolerance of Ramzan Kadyrov and his appointment of an operative as Tula governor reflect a clever policy by the Kremlin leader to protect himself by keeping around himself only those so obviously outrageous or incompetent that neither they nor anyone else will view them as successors, according to Vitaly Portnikov.

            Russian rulers from Ivan the Terrible to Boris Yeltsin have often adopted such a strategy when their own time appears to be running out because of the failures of their policies and when they “are afraid even of their own shadow,” the Ukrainian commentator says (

            The first oprichniki appeared, he points out, “when Ivan the Terrible began to suffer defeats in his military adventures and with horror expected retaliation” from one of the boyars even if the latter appeared to be completely loyal.  Those he chose to be his oprichniki were in his view at least no threat to him or his throne.

            The last example before the present one, Portnikov says, is offered by “the late Yeltsin who brought into his inner circle Korzhakov and Barsukov and almost made their successor ‘their spiritual father Mr. Soskovets.”  Had Yeltsin not recognized that his time was short, it is far from clear what might have happened.

            He chose Putin and Putin is now doing the same thing.  “As long as [he] was bold and energetic, as long as oil was at 120 US dollars a barrel and even his military adventures did not lead him to an immediate collapse, the president could allow himself the Ivanovs, the Shoygus, the Narshkins, and the Patrushevs.”

            While they were prepared to serve the supreme leader, they were also credible in their own eyes and in others as successors, Portnikov suggests, and thus they constituted a potential threat to Putin in his eyes – and thus he has moved in the direction of his predecessors by elevating the incompetent or the outrageous (or both at once) to his inner circle.

            That is “the only way out for Putin,” the Ukrainian commentator says, “to surround himself with oprichniki and thus reduce the influence of those who could replace him in the Kremlin even from the point of view of administrative competence. Next to the monarch can be only those who cannot do anything except ride in the front seat and execute commands.”

            As things deteriorate in Russia, Portnikov suggests, the number of the oprichniki is thus likely to continue to increase, until for one reason or another the system collapses as a result of this and its other failings.

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