Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Putin Regime Becoming ‘Dictatorship of Fear’ but Retains Elements of ‘Dictatorship of Deception,’ New Book Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – A new book by Sergey Guriyev, a Russian economist in Paris, and Daniel Treiman, a UCLA political scientist, argues that the Putin regime is rapidly becoming “a dictatorship of fear” but that it retains elements of “a dictatorship of deception” and that both Russians and the West must recognize this distinction and the best ways to fight against each.

            The book, entitled Dictators of Deception: the New Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century, has already appeared to acclaim in English and set to be released in Russian translation, says that dictatorships are not so much disappearing as evolving to cope with the challenges of modernity (

            Increasingly, these regimes take the form of dictatorships of deception in which rulers use democratic forms gutted of their real meaning to run things as they want without the popular constraints democracy imposes; but the two point out that some dictatorships of deception do grow into dictatorships of fear when problems arise and the popularity of rulers declines.

            The Putin regime is one of these, although its transition to a pure dictatorship of fear is as yet incomplete and it retains many of the elements of a dictatorship of deception, although they are increasingly recognized by those who live under them and by those abroad who must deal with them as deceptions rather than a partial reality.

            The reason that Putin has made this shift is that dictatorships of deception are “not completely adapted to present-day circumstances,” Guriyev says in an interview about the book. They are “based on the popularity of the leader” and that in turn is based on economic success. When the latter fails, the former declines; and the leader has to use force ever more often.

            The turning point came when Russians protested massively against the arrest of Aleksey Navalny and the new system was put in place when Putin invaded Ukraine a year later, Guriyev says. Putin likely didn’t “initially want to shift to a dictatorship of fear” but he was forced to do so by the larger forces he put in play.

            “Today, there is a dictatorship of fear in Russia in the sense that the regime no longer conceals that it is dictatorial. No one acts as if there will be independent observers at elections or that there will be an honest counting of votes. Instead, Putin’s rhetoric corresponds to the rhetoric of dictatorships of fear,” Guriyev says.

            It is “difficult to imagine” that people living under a dictatorship of fear can resist it effectively and lead to its transformation. But those outside can do a lot, as George Kennan famously described long ago in his long telegram about how the West should contain and thus force an end to the Soviet system.

            “The West must not only call dictatorships dictatorships but continue to cooperate with civil society in dictatorial regimes” like Putin’s, Guryiyev continues. Moreover, the West must put its own house in order so as to block the spread of corruption from dictatorships like Putin into their own societies and polities.

            Moreover, Western countries must defend international organizations against corruption from within by dictatorships that have become their members.  Taking such steps won’t be easy because “the democratic coalition isn’t as strong as it was 50 years ago” and “the West no longer is the indisputable economic leader.” But it must devise strategies to do so if it is to defeat its opponents and defend itself.


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