Russian Politics Under Putin

The System Will Outlast the Master

My buddy and me: Ramzan Kadyrov and Putin in Grozny, October 2008. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

Between 1996 and 2011, I served as a consultant to the Kremlin, advising Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Dmitry Medvedev. And yet even I can hardly claim to understand the real mechanisms of power in today’s Russia. In the past few years, the country has reached a level of dysfunction that has pushed it to the brink, threatening its very existence. Ill-conceived military adventures, poor decision-making, and political skullduggery—sometimes of the lethal variety—have wreaked havoc on Russia’s economy and led to international isolation.

Some have concluded that the problem is simply one of autocracy, that there is no longer any distinction between the Kremlin and Putin. As Vyacheslav Volodin, a high-level domestic policy aide to Putin, has publicly said, “While Putin is there, so is Russia; once Putin is gone, so is Russia.” This conception of Putin as sole sovereign has developed only gradually. In a 2002

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