Staunton, December 28 – Twenty years after Yeltsin handed him the Russian presidency, Vladimir Putin has achieved remarkable success both by luck – he arrived when the oil boom was coming on line and is up against less than the first string of rulers in the West – and by being the first to challenge arrangements many thought were permanent, Sergey Shelin says.
But the fact that he has stayed on top this long “does not mean” that he will do so forever, the Rosbalt commentator says. “Putin’s system is wearing out. Its reserves are great but less than they were. The number of internal and external advantages is decreasing … and he is getting older” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2019/12/27/1820721.html).
As a result, Shelin continues, “his administration is entering into that delicate phase whose length is not predictable when the regime will rely not on its own force but on the weakness of alternatives.”
“Putin is sincere. He conceals his plans but doesn’t hide the uniqueness of his own thoughts, feelings and interests.” That was true 20 years ago and it is still true now, the commentator says. And Putin has felt free to take steps against existing arrangements that many said could not be changed. That has been a major source of his strength.
Indeed, as a result of that willingness to act in that way, “Putin up to ow is viewed by those on top and those on the bottom as an acceptable ruler although he has ceased to be the president of hope and has lost the support of approximately a third of his fellow citizens,” Shelina argues.
Much of his success reflects his good fortune: The economy started to rise after default and incomes were pushed up by the oil boom. And “among the leaders of the Western powers with whom he has had to deal for 20 years, there has not been a figure of world caliber: Blair and Chiraq, Bush and Obama, Merkel, Macron and Trump” have allowed Putin to look good.
“But it would be stupid to reduce Putin’s success to this chain of accidents. He has consistently destroyed all standard which at the moment of his coming to power looked as if they were what had to be accepted. He didn’t like them.” And he demonstrated that that view was in fact a myth.
Many thought his KGB-FSB approach, one that treated politics as a series of special operations, would not work and would alienate the Russian people. But in fact, that approach has proved just the reverse, frequently working because no one expected it to and winning support from the population.
Among these permanencies that proved not to be were the need for elections, the status of the oligarchs, the supposed demand of the middle class for freedom, and the idea that Russians had gotten over “imperial nostalgia.” And more generally, it was widely assumed that liberalism more generally could not be overturned.
Ever more leaders are challenging that idea, Shelin continues; but “at first, Putin was almost the only one” who did so and he won more point by being first. Whether he can continue to break precedent and recover support remains to be seen, but Putin has shown himself far more willing to challenge assumptions as to what is possible than other world leaders at present.