Putin Won’t Go Quietly - if at All
A specter is haunting Russia—the specter of a revolution. That much is clear. The tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people braving sub-zero temperatures in the street clearly attest to an unprecedented popular discontent and a clear wish for a more democratic and less corrupt country.
Because of the scope and force of the protest, the obituaries for Prime Minister (and once and future President) Vladimir Putin, and for “Putinism,” have started to crop up right and left. The argument is that even a “sovereign” democracy cannot survive if the majority wish for a change. It is, we hear, not a question of if—but only of when—Putin decides to pack up and go.
Irrespective of what one would like to see happen, this kind of reasoning seems to be premature at best. It is promoted by many of the same starry-eyed people who welcomed Putin in 2000 as the best thing since the invention of vodka, as an organizer and modernizer who would overcome the chaos of Yeltsin years and usher Russia into the 21st century.
There was nothing preordained about what was going to happen to Russia more than ten years ago, just as there is nothing preordained about what is going to happen to it now. But to gauge the events by the standards of the civil rights movement of 1960s or the revolutions of 1989 is hopelessly naive.
The salient fact about Putin is, and has always been, not that he is a cool-looking dude who does judo and rides horses, or a coldly analytical brain who speaks passable German, but that he is, in the modern Russian parlance, a silovik. He has been well educated, in what was one of the most thorough training regimens in Russia available to anyone, in methods of controlling, manipulating, and deceiving people. The chances that he is watching the demonstrations on television and telling himself, “My, I must have done something wrong, these folks really seem not to like me, maybe it’s time I should up and go,” are therefore pretty slim.