By co-opting the masses against the elite, the President Putin has shaped Russia to echo his values and grievances. And now he’s working to secure his legacy.
“Medvedevgate” will be forgotten quickly, however, an after-effect will remain, if only because this story revealed the political and economic workings of Russia’s current elite. It provided an inside look at how money and luxury serve as the lifeblood animating Russia’s body politic.
It’s completely rational for the elites to avoid change, although it betrays their inability to look beyond the horizon. They are not frightened enough by the current stagnation to initiate changes in the system for their own sake. But what they do fear greatly is losing everything all at once by pulling some crumbling brick out of the system, causing the whole construction to come crashing down.
For most of Russian history, the country’s leaders have employed a top-down political system. When Crimea was annexed in 2014, the Kremlin temporarily allowed more decentralized patriotic activism to rally support, but they soon saw the potential risks and reverted to more centralized political control.
The president embodies the ambitions of a country that is proud of its history and means to retain its role within the international community.
For centuries, Russian history has glorified the state and those who sacrifice themselves for the state. It’s time to commemorate a different kind of hero.
Any ideology, not just communist, is a poor guide for foreign policy. Foreign military misadventures result in disappointment at home and loss of prestige abroad.
I was able to read the secret police files of my grandfather, who died in the Russian gulag in 1946, and then cross-reference the names of the men who persecuted him in the new database published by Memorial. Russia’s grandsons need to confront the truth about what their grandfathers did—but the Russian state would prefer its people to live with historical amnesia.
Putin is creating the environment that can provide him with security and insurance and control the wars with the Kremlin’s inner circle. Russia’s political elites have already received a lot of signals from him: If somebody behaves in a wrong way, he will be either dismissed or accused of corruption.
Russia’s propaganda masters didn’t expect Trump to win. State media outlets praised him every which way and painted him as a good friend to Russia, unofficially backed by the Kremlin. But the idea was that Trump would be cheated of his victory in yet another example of how great a role Putin plays on the world stage and how unscrupulous the American elite is.