Saturday, April 15, 2017

Quote of the Day (Stephen Kotkin, on How Putin Consolidated Power From Within)

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin resembles a villain out of central casting. He has repeatedly revealed himself as cocksure, patronizing, aggrieved, vindictive, and quick with a retort for Western critics. But he is hardly the first Russian leader to make demonization of the West a foundation of Russia’s core identity and its government’s claim to legitimacy. Moreover, today’s Russia is significantly more ethnically homogeneous and nationalist than was the old Soviet Union, and Putin has perfected the art of moistening the eyes of Russian elites assembled in opulent tsarist settings, plucking the strings of mystical pride in all things Russian and of ressentiment at all things Western. They see reason where critics see madness. From the Kremlin’s perspective, as Washington engages in stupid, hypocritical, and destabilizing global behavior, Moscow shoulders the burden of serving as a counterweight, thereby bringing sanity and balance to the international system. Russian lying, cheating, and hypocrisy thus serve a higher purpose. Cybercrime is patriotism; rigging elections and demobilizing opposition are sacred duties. Putin’s machismo posturing, additionally, is undergirded by a view of Russia as a country of real men opposing a pampered, gutless, and decadent West. Resentment toward U.S. power resonates far beyond Russia, and with his ramped-up social conservatism, Putin has expanded a perennial sense of Russian exceptionalism to include an alternative social model as well.”— Stephen Kotkin, “The Resistible Rise of Vladimir Putin: Russia’s Nightmare Dressed Like a Daydream,” Foreign Affairs, March-April 2015

Let’s not leave out a few other factors in the rise of Putin's kleptocracy: harassing dissenters; targeted surreptitious assassinations of prominent critics abroad; and disrupting democratic elections, in Europe and—yes, say it!—the United States. (In this latter regard, he and President Trump are finding out an uncomfortable truth about each other: neither is to be trusted.)

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