Thursday, March 22, 2018

Putin is Mugabe But Alas Russians Aren’t Zimbabweans, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – Vladimir Putin has ample time to catch up with Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in power, but by the time the Kremlin leader has achieved a similar time in office, everyone will have forgotten Mugabe, Vitaly Portnikov says, making this a good time to compare the two rulers.

            But it is even more useful because it points to a comparison between Russians and Zimbabweans, the Ukrainian commentator says. “Mugabe really is very similar to Putin; more precisely, Putin is like Mugabe with a harsh authoritarian regime based on constant criticism of the West and the search for internal enemies” (

            Mugabe’s regime rested on “the unification of two ‘revolutionary’ nomenklatura groupings, pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese, into a single party of power. The organized theft of the country. The inability of opposing a corrupt elite even in poverty. Unheard of authority for the siloviki. Control over the judicial system. And all the same …”

            “And all the same,” Portnikov continues, “when in 1996, opposition candidates considered the elections there were a farce and called on their supporters to boycott them, the authorities were able to attract to the voting booths only 32 percent of citizens. The rest preferred to listen to the appeals of the opposition leaders.”

            To be sure, the commentator says, “Mugabe with the help of siloviki loyal to himself and the government apparatus he controlled remained in power, but the level of his real support by Zimbabweans was demonstrated … No one in the local opposition considered this boycott a success because the goal was not to boycott Mugabe but to defeat him.”

            In the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangiray received more votes than Mugabe in the first round. Mugabe did everything he could to block Tsvangiray from being able to run in the second round, finally conceding him power in the government and forcing Mugabe’s regime to share power with its opposition.

            Now, the opposition has forced Mugabe out, precisely what it has been trying to do for 20 years.

            “Can one imagine something similar in Russia?”  Unfortunately, not, Portnikov says.  And this is not because Putin is a strongman while Mugabe was weak. Until the latter was forced from office, no one suspected him of that. The problem lies elsewhere, in the differences between the Zimbabwean people and the Russian one.

            According to the Ukrainian analyst, “Zimbabwean society … has turned out to be more mature than the Russian one and much more capable of defending its interests,” starting with a call for a boycott then forming a parliamentary opposition and finally forcing the dictator from office.

            Unfortunately, today Russia is not “’a Zimbabwe in the snow.’”  Were it, Portnikov says, that would represent real progress.

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