Far from formidable, Vladimir Putin and those around him in the Kremlin have made themselves prisoners of the past, argues Andrew Wood, an associate fellow of Chatham House and a former British Ambassador to Moscow.
Russia’s frozen power structures condemn it to crisis. The adage about power and corruption going hand in hand fits the case, but there is a more ancient one that fits Putin and his immediate colleagues even better, in the Talmud: “Power buries those who wield it,” he writes for The American Interest:
When he succeeded Yeltsin, Putin did not have to choose top-down governance through what he called a “power vertical.” True, the roots of such a system were there in the 1990s, but so too was the potential for a more effective division of powers at the center, a better regional system, an improved judiciary, continued development of independent media, and the further evolution of civil society. The diversification and growth of Russia’s nascent market economy might have accompanied such possibilities. The point is not to suggest that Russia would necessarily have proved able to follow these difficult paths as Putin assumed the Presidency in 2000; it is to say that Putin’s construction of his “power vertical” ruled those other choices out and established a different dynamic.
“The result is that Russia today is in a condition of latent anarchy, held in check by personalized and arbitrary dominance from the Kremlin,” Wood contends. “The authoritarian current has by now overwhelmed the possibility of gradual evolution toward a more liberal system on Putin’s watch.”
The Kremlin under Putin has locked itself into a triple dynamic of failure, which the Russian people do not deserve, Wood suggests;
The state beyond the President’s immediate reach has atrophied. It does not have the inner strength to deal with the debilitating and self-reinforcing corruption at its heart. The state has neither the power nor the executive ability to revive Russia’s economic or societal fortunes. The search for legitimacy in a Russia adrift, by means of establishing the country as a Great Power, is beyond the Kremlin’s reach. Putin bears the ultimate responsibility for these failures. Perhaps he knows it. It is beyond his powers now to change the course he has chosen. An eventual successor will surely have to try to do so, maybe at first in some small degree, whatever his or notionally her understandable fear of what such change may unleash.
Above: Russia: What to Expect From Putin – Derek H. Chollet, Counselor and Senior Advisor for Security and Defense Policy, German Marshall Fund of the United States; Agnia Grigas, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Senior Fellow, McKinnon Center for Global Affairs, Occidental College; Author, Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire; Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennon Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations. Presider: Nadia Diuk, Vice President, Programs, National Endowment for Democracy.