Staunton, April 25 – In recent months, many commentators have focused on what appears to be Vladimir Putin’s withdrawal from some areas of decision making and the apparent rise of what many view as his competitors or even challengers for power, Moscow commentator Oleg Kashin says.
But in fact, the power vertical is as strong as it has ever been, he says, and the notion that it isn’t and that others are gaining power at his expense and could soon challenge him is an illusion – and one that Putin himself has promoted because it serves his own interests – electoral and otherwise (znak.com/2017-04-25/oleg_kashin_ob_illyuzii_oslableniya_vertikali).
Boris Berezovsky, Kashin begins, at one point said that the difference between Boris Yeltsin and Putin was that “Yeltsin gave the impression that he wasn’t there,” while “Putin gives one that he is” at all times and on all issues. But “now, Putin too is giving the impression that he isn’t” and that it is no longer the case that any problem can be addressed “without him.”
Some observers have suggested that Putin has become less interested in domestic affairs because he has been focusing on international ones, the Moscow commentator continues. And others have assumed that if he is withdrawing, then others must, according to the laws of political life, be rushing in to fill the void.
In short, “if there is less of Putin, that means there must be someone else,” and there is a long list of candidates from Kadyrov to Sechin. That “picture,” Kashin says, would be convincing were it not for one thing: all those on the list are people whom Putin created, who without Putin would be irrelevant, and who continue to appeal to him for decisions.
Sechin, for example, “doesn’t exist apart from Putin,” and his influence and power reflect his closeness to Putin rather than any independent base. The same can be said for all the others on the list of the usual suspects. Each of them is “an avatar of Putin.” When they fight, “Putin makes peace among them;” although they don’t do so often because they are all of a piece.
That is, they act first and foremost as Putin’s agents, promoting and defending his interests and “only then, in much less significant areas, do they defend their own interests,” Kashin continues. And when they do fight, he suggests, it is because Putin has decided that they should because that again serves his interests not theirs.
“There are no reasons to think that people installed by Putin and obligated in everything only to him in general are capable of doing anything which contradicts his interests.” That is why Putin built the power vertical and why it remains so strong and why “Putin and no one else bears responsibility for all that happens in it.”
Just now, it is clear Kashin argues that it is in Putin’s interest to pull back from such an active role in public and lay responsibilities on his subordinates. But it is his decision not anyone elses: there isn’t anyone who could or can force him to do so.
Russia is “a super-presidential country and has had 17 and a half years of unchanged power. In these conditions, power is Putin and Putin is the power … No one deceives him … or is conducting games he doesn’t agree to behind his back. In the vertical nothing is done that would seem to Putin incorrect or mistaken.”
“This [system of power] is his vertical,” Kashin concludes, and “all decisions in it are his.” If it suits him to make it appear that others have taken them, then that too is his decision. But it doesn’t change the nature of the case.