Courtesy Reuters

The Hinge that Holds Russia Together

Why Putin Knows He Cannot Leave His Country To Its Own Devices

Vladimir Putin's decision to return to the Russian presidency should not come as a surprise; he learned early in his career that democratic rule was dangerous. In the late 1980s, when he was a young lieutenant colonel in the KGB, Putin watched as his post was abolished and his country ruined as a result of democratic reforms in the Soviet Union. In 1996, having become deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and head of the electoral campaign for then mayor Anatoly Sobchak, he was kicked out of the political scene once more after Sobchak lost in a democratic election. Putin inherited the presidency from Boris Yeltsin in December 1999 and confirmed his authority in highly predictable national elections in March 2000. All told, Putin's dislike for democracy is, in a sense, understandable.

Putin has created a political system based on the redistribution of property, widespread corruption among government officials, the domination of security services, and informal flows of income distributed according to political necessity. Under Putin, the Russian elite has felt completely free to disobey or ignore the laws and rules imposed on ordinary Russians. For the Russian political class, Putin is the only guarantor of such liberties.

Since virtually all members of the Russian political elite have been directly appointed to their posts by Putin or his cronies, the group represents not a genuine team but a board of yes-men. This is why the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, will never be able to manage the political elite as well as Putin himself does, nor will Putin's other disciples. The risk of uncontrolled developments seems too huge for Putin to withdraw from office, since he feels that all these people have no obligations to each other, and in many cases do not even trust each other. 

Putin's decision to nominate himself for another presidential term also shows that the system he designed is now unable to reproduce itself in a fully legitimate way. If political change does come to the country, it will not result

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