Tuesday, April 5, 2016

With Archives Move, Putin Makes an Unforced Error

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 4 – Vladimir Putin has committed many crimes, but his political tactics at least from his own point of view have been brilliant, keeping his opponents off balance and ensuring that he will retain the support of the Russian population.  But now he has made what can only be described as an unforced error, one that is likely to come back to haunt him.

            Yesterday, the Kremlin leader announced that he was taking personal control of Russia’s Federal Archives Agency (Rosarkhiv), declaring that he is doing so because of the “special value” of documents contained there (interfax.ru/russia/501908).

            That Soviet and Russian politics has often been about controlling the past in the name of controlling the future is no news, and it is certainly the case that the chief current defender of that country’s security services and their checkered history should want to ensure that he has absolute control over documents that might be embarrassing or worse.

            But that was true of his predecessors as well, and none of them chose to take direct control of the archives, not only because they viewed this as a technical issue but also because they were confident that they had subordinates who would do their bidding in that regard.  By taking direct personal control, Putin has raised two serious questions:

            On the one hand and most immediately, are there things in the archives that are so threatening to him and his regime that he cannot risk having anyone else be in charge? And on the other and more ominously, is the circle of people on whom he can totally rely now narrowing to the point that he has no choice but to assume personal control?

            That such questions will now be asked is beyond question, and the answers, even if they are speculative or uninformed will harm Putin. Consequently, the Kremlin leader in this regard has done something even worse than a crime: he  has committed a serious political mistake – and it is certain to haunt him in the future.

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