Monday, August 1, 2022

With Ukraine, Russian Tradition of Over-Personifying Politics Working against Putin, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 31 – As Putin’s war in Ukraine drags on, something terrible is happening to the Kremlin leader: the over-personalization of politics which has worked for so long to the Kremlin leader’s advantage is now working against him, Abbas Gallyamov says. And what is the worst aspect of this situation is that Putin’s team understands this but can do nothing about it.

            Authoritarianism has a potentially fatal flaw, the former Putin speech writer and current commentator says. The leader gets all the credit when things go well, but there is always the risk that when things go badly, he will get all the blame, especially if Russians view any defeat as the result of some other individual’s actions (

            For many Russians, Gallyamov says, the war in Ukraine is a contest between Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky. As long as Russia is winning, Putin is winning; but when Russia isn’t winning, neither is Putin – and still worse from the Kremlin’s point of view, many Russians will see another leader, in this case, the Ukrainian president as the winner.

            Not expecting Russia or Putin to lose, the Russian government media has promoted this personalization of the war; and now, it is confronted with a problem it recognizes but doesn’t know how to address. It can’t minimize Putin relative to Russia as a whole and so it can’t retreat from personalization on either side.

            Abbasov says he believes that “the Kremlin is well aware of this risk … It’s just that they can’t do anything about it.” They can’t reduce the role of Putin in their propaganda and so they can’t reduce the role of Zelensky either and thus can’t reduce the over-personalization of the conflict that with Russian defeats on public view is going to hurt Putin with his own people.

            And he concludes with this warning: “Authoritarianism sooner or later turns against its creator. Those around him can only flatter him but not tell the truth.” On the one hand, this puts him at risk; and on the other, those risks increase because the decisions he makes as a result will be less and less well-grounded and effective.

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