Putin is now free to rule Russia as the nominal president for a grand total of twenty years. In actuality, because of the sham presidency of Medvedev, he will have held absolute power for a stunning twenty-four years by the time 2024 rolls around, at which point Putin will be 72 years old. Brezhnev had power for only 18 years. Stalin made it to 31, at age 75, so Putin can still call himself a moderate. But rest assured: 31 is in Putin’s sights. It only requires him to live to the age of 79.
Tsar Nikolai II, whose dictatorial rule ended in revolution, held power in Russia for only 23 years. By 2024 Putin will have ruled longer than Russia’s last king.
There is one thing, and one thing only, that will stop Putin from ruling Russia in 2025: death.
As long as Putin lives, he will rule Russia. He will bring back more and more of the attributes of his beloved USSR. More and more Russians will want to leave, and more and more obstacles will be placed in their path. More and more pressure will be placed on the internet, fewer and fewer career options will exist for young Russians who do not hew to the Putin ideology, which departs from the USSR in embracing religion.
The worst thing about all this from the Russian perspective is what it says about Russia’s talent pool. Apparently, there is only one man capable of running the country properly, and that man is Putin — who won’t live forever. This means there can be only one state when he passes: panic and collapse.
Unfortunately, it seems that neither the president of the United States nor his Russia advisor Michael McFaul reads our blog. If they had done so, they would not have helped Putin complete this malignant seizure of power by cooperating with his effort to hold Medvedev up as a legitimate president rather than a puppet. In doing so, Putin wanted to blunt and confuse any opposition efforts to block his return to power. Obama and McFaul were very important contributors to the Soviet restoration in Putin’s Russia.
It could have been different. America could have had real leadership, like that of Ronald Reagan. It could have stood up to Putin as soon as he orchestrated the sham proceeding of taking up the position of “prime minister” in 2008. It could have galvanized world opinion to demand that Putin not return to the presidency. It could have supported Russian democrats like Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Ryzhkov as they bravely stood up to Putin. It could have demanded that at least one of them be allowed on the ballot in 2012.
Instead, Obama munched cheeseburgers with Medvedev and named McFaul as his ambassador to Russia, clearly signaling to Putin that the U.S. would not stand in his way. He listened to those who, on Putin’s behalf, asked us to drop our guard on Russia, to give Putin a chance to make a transition. We could have been working hard to warn the people of Russia about the danger of Putin returning to power, warning them about the dire consequences they would face. Instead, we did nothing. Now, we face a neo-Soviet state ruled for life by a proud KGB spy who has spent his entire life learning how to hate and destroy us, and more importantly someone who is totally unqualified to make Russia competitive in the global marketplace.
There is one last chance: before Putin’s name actually goes on the ballot, before he is actually reinstalled as “president” of Russia, the world can act. Russians can rise up and demand, just as they did when a Soviet putsch tried to unseat Mikhail Gorbachev, that their country not go backwards. The leaders of the Western democracies can announce that they will isolate and ostracize Putin’s Russia if it formally becomes a neo-Soviet state, and will do all they can to support his democratic opposition.
If this happens, Putin can be stopped just as the putsch was stopped. If it doesn’t, then Russia will, heedless of Santayana’s warning, slide back into the neo-Soviet mire that leads only to failure and national collapse. But meanwhile, just as the USSR always did, Russia will bedevil America, giving aid and comfort to its worst enemies, roiling the Middle East, pushing up the price of oil, and undermining American interests wherever it can.
This is the legacy of Barack Obama, this is the fate of Russia.