20 Years of Vladimir Putin; Russian Gov. Resigns, Part 1

(CNN) Russian government resigns as Putin proposes reforms that could extend his grip on power.

Inspired by Russia’s adversarial attitude towards the West, media coverage is almost uniformly negative. What else could be expected towards a government that has been described as a kleptocracy, with such noteworthy achievements as lending a helping hand to Assad’s use of poison gas in Syria, Novichok in Salisbury, (NY Times) Syria hospital bombings, Ukraine invasion, and nuclear cruise missiles that make mini-Chernobyls? Have I left anything out? Sure, but on the chance that Putin reads this, I won’t dig deeper.

Every leader is the product of the society he or she is trying to lead. When we study history, we encounter for the most part the biographies of rulers  who, by modern Western standards, were barbarous. Passers-by of London Bridge between 1300 and 1660 remarked on the endless rows of heads impaled on stakes.

This has not blinded modern historians to the subtleties of those times. That mix was the crucible of the modern English speaking world. Putin’s Russia has the contrasts of a society in flux. While some elements of the state remain barbarous, Putin’s inner circle seems touchingly modern — provided we exclude the Kremlin’s criminal element from our view.  On the occasions I have engaged Russian intellectuals, I’ve found modern minds. This is one portent of future greatness, not the shallow yearning to be a “great power.”

Patterns of history cannot be refuted and should not be ignored. They  can rarely be avoided. Russia is a PITA, but there is more going on in Russia than can be expressed in short-form journalism. Much of it can be viewed vicariously, through the eyes of a ruler. If we are open to seeing with the ruler’s eyes, to experiencing the peculiar bond between the ruler and the ruled; and the fears for the role and for the nation, we get something vastly additive to the boilerplate dished out by think-tanks.

In March ’17, I decided that Putin deserved an “apology”, which in the original Greek means , not “I’m sorry”, but something like the defense  a trial lawyer provides for a client. In comparison with the unknowable facts, it could be true, false, or a mix. The only requirement of this apology is that it be favorable to Putin, and not definitively refutable.

In Alexei Navalny, Poisoned?, I wrote,

Putin’s bargain with the Devil, by which it can be argued that he saved Russia from chaos, involved co-opting all the elements of Russian society, and he has never found a way to pay it off. But there is also a political reason of some legitimacy why Navalny must not be allowed to rise.

(Moscow Times) ‘Not Everything Works Out’: Medvedev’s Career, in Photos.. Quoting,

As Medvedev resigned, Putin thanked him for what he had achieved, adding: “Not everything worked out of course — but then, nothing ever works out totally.” The newly resigned prime minister will now serve as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs.

Putin’s remark, and dismissal of the government is incompletely explained by the desire to hold onto power. It offers the possibility that he will now try to pay down that unholy bargain. The price of failure is a system so entirely dependent on his character, it cannot survive his passing. Most autocrats don’t appreciate this point. Putin may be the exception. Perhaps the wisdom of  Vladimir Bukovsky holds meaning to him:

“The movers and shakers of today have little interest in digging for the truth. Who knows what one may come up with? You may start out with the communists, and end up with yourself.”

But first, let’s see where he has been, the visceral Russian experience of decay and stasis, the rescue of a state in collapse, while viewing the West from a remote point of view.

To be continued shortly.


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