Putin Alone

Vladimir Putin has forged a political system dependent completely on one person—himself. The nature of his government depends on complete secrecy and surprise, to the extent that even his aides often don’t hear of his plans in advance. As we have repeatedly reiterated, we believe that a political system that rests on one person is inherently unstable. After some time, it simply starts to get lonely at the top. Without solid institutions, such as independent courts, the whole structure is ready to collapse at any moment.

Mikhail Rostovsky has written an excellent article on the President’s “burden” in the October 25th edition of Moskovskii Komsomolets. It does an excellent job of explaining just how much is now decided at the top:

“Russia’s federal decision-making center has contracted to the size of President Putin’s head,” says a former government official.

Presidential aide Viktor Ivanov, the Kremlin’s official personnel manager, is able to influence low-priority appointments, but nothing more. According to our sources, even a medium-priority appointment like Grigori Rapota’s promotion to presidential envoy for the Southern federal district caught Viktor Ivanov by surprise.

Why does Putin do things this way? As Putin himself has said, “there’s no such thing as an ex-spy.” And any spy regards secrecy as a value in itself. An intelligence officer who knows Putin well told us that Putin’s personnel policies bear the stamp of an incident from his adolescence, as related by Putin before he became president. When Putin was in the ninth grade, he approached the KGB to ask how he could get a job there. The response was: “We don’t hire anyone who volunteers.”

The above-mentioned former government official told us: “President Putin deliberately erodes any teams that take shape within the authorities. He forces all the major players to act on their own. As soon as they make any serious attempt to form a group, Putin makes a move and it all falls apart.”

Every effort is made to keep the elite disoriented, and thus constrained. To be honest, Putin is simply brilliant at doing this. But what is the impact on effective government?

But there’s a measure of truth in the saying “two heads are better than one.” When taken to extremes, the secretive nature of the Kremlin’s decision-making with regard to appointments and dismissals inevitably leads to some unexpected results.

The personnel system established by the Kremlin ensures that the president holds undivided power – but in terms of state administration, it’s obviously inefficient. A former senior official described it as follows: “Putin has doomed himself to sorting out innumerable and diverse situations on a daily basis. Even the most high-ranking officials are paralyzed without direct instructions from the president.”

The problem in Russia is that ordinary citizens and the political elite are effectively living in different dimensions already, and the distance between their two worlds is increasing rapidly. Ordinary citizens are looking on with complete indifference as their political rights are stripped away. And the “new aristocracy,” pleased with this, is growing increasingly accustomed to living in a closed-off little world of its own.

Translated by Elena Leonova