It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
The goal of his second term has been to remove all centers of power but his own, to the point where his regime is now utterly dysfunctional because of overcentralization and secrecy, leaving too few and poorly informed decision makers. The question is no longer whether President Putin will hang on to power after his second term expires in 2008 but whether he will survive that long.
A related problem is that during Putin`s reign, Russia has gone from being partially free to unfree, according to the authoritative classification by Freedom House. It is actually the only country in the world that has become authoritarian during President George W. Bush`s tenure.
Alas, since he consolidated power, President Putin has done little good. His failures have not been incidental but reflect the inadequacy of his new system. Four disasters stand out: the Yukos affair, the Beslan hostage drama, the Ukrainian elections, and social benefits reform.
The four policy blunders described here were not accidental but systemic. They reveal how Russia’s new system of governance really works. President Putin has changed not only policies but also Russia’s political regime, and its dysfunction may cause his fall.
First, Putin has unwisely concentrated far more power in his own hands than he can manage. Most strikingly, he appointed as prime minister Mikhail Fradkov, a man famous for never making any decisions. As a consequence, the government has become petrified. Rather than creating a strong vertical chain of command, Putin has paralyzed his own government by trying to micromanage everything himself. In effect, he has transformed himself from a strategic policy maker into a firefighter unsuccessfully attempting to put out bushfires.
By strangling independent information, the president is allowing himself to be increasingly misinformed by his own bureaucracy. Being a true secret policeman, Putin is preoccupied with secrecy and conspiracy theories, and he seems to rely more on intelligence from his old circle of KGB men from St. Petersburg than on real information. When a French journalist asked aggressively about the arrest of Khodorkovsky, Putin suggested that he knew the journalist had been paid by Khodorkovsky: “We know where [the oligarchs’] money is being spent, on which lawyers, on which PR campaigns, and on which politicians, and on the posing of these questions.”
Checks and balances have been minimized. By depriving the parliament, the council of ministers, and the regional governors of most of their power, Putin has emptied these formal institutions of any real content. Instead, he is busy setting up informal advisory institutions, such as the State Council and the Public Chamber, which are of little or no consequence. Therefore, no institution can lend legitimacy to Putin if he starts faltering. His only source of legitimacy is his personal popularity, which is falling fast. According to the Russian Public Opinion Foundation, 68 percent would have voted for Putin in presidential elections in May 2004. One year later, this number had fallen to 42 percent, a drop of more than one-third. One more blow and his popularity could be in free fall.
As the regime has changed, so have its interests. Putin`s KGB friends dominate the state administration and the big state-owned enterprises, which should be the focus of reform. But reforms cannot occur against the ruling interests. Even during Putin’s first term, the share of public expenditures devoted to state administration, law enforcement, and the military steadily increased at the expense of social expenditures.
The strength of the Putin regime lies in its skilled manipulation of the elite, the media, and civil society. But if its propaganda deviates too much from reality, it will eventually lose its credibility and thus authority. That threshold may already have been crossed. Putin’s regime is too rigid and centralized to handle crises, which always occur. Therefore, it can hardly be very stable. Analysts and policy makers concerned with Russia should turn their attention to how this regime may crumble.