In April 2006, two years into the second term of “President” Vladimir Putin of Russia, I formed a Russia blog called La Russophobe for one purpose: to warn the world that Putin, a proud KGB spy, would not surrender power as the Russian constitution required him to do in 2008 after two terms as “president.” Instead, we at LR warned, Putin would hold power forever — just like Brezhnev and Stalin, his heroes.
When Putin announced he would become prime minister in 2008, the writing was on the wall. LR begged the world continuously thereafter to see that Putin was rapidly turning Russia into what Jeffrey Taylor presciently called “Zaire, with permafrost” in 2001, shortly after Putin took power.
The Russophiles disagreed. They told us Russia could “never go back” to the dark days of unlimited central power, that Putin was only mentoring his “replacement” Dmitry Medvedev, that he would fade into the background and allow Russia to become a democratic, civilized country, if only we would let down our guard and give him a chance.
Last Saturday, at the convention of the sham “political party” called United Russia that Putin formed by personal fiat and then caused to totally dominate the Russian parliament, Putin announced he would cast out Russia’s one-term “president” Medvedev, who was never, just as we always said, anything more than Putin’s puppet, and return to the presidency having changed the constitution to allow six-year terms.
Putin openly admitted he had made this decision years ago, yet he told nobody about it, not even the Kremlin press secretary. When the Russian currency markets heard the news, the value of the ruble promptly plunged to its lowest level in two years, and the country’s highly respected finance minster resigned. Capital flight from Russia in the first half of 2011 has already nearly matched what occurred in the whole of 2010. One senior western banker told the Financial Times: “The country is going down the toilet.”
Putin had just announced a massive new military spending program one analysts predicted could bankrupt Russia the same way a similar program destroyed the USSR. He has consistently and continuously ratcheted up his crackdown on democracy and his aggressive moves towards Russia’s neighbors.
But none of it mattered to Washington. In a shocking display of cowardice worthy of Neville Chamberlain, Barack Obama almost immediately announced he’d carry on business as usual with Russia. Given the choice between: admitting his policy has failed and trying to correct it, preserving American values and moral leadership; or maintaining the fraud that Russia is a reliable partner regardless of the cost, Obama has immediately chosen the latter course. His Russia policy has led the United States to absolute disaster and debacle.
Dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky issued a stinging denunciation of America’s abandonment of moral leadership from behind the bars of his Siberian jail cell. But Obama ignored it, just as he has ignored all the other cries of Russia’s liberals, those willing to fight for American values inside Russia. He has been willing, even happy, to sell them down the river in order to put forth the pretense of a “reset” policy with Russia that was based on a relationship with Medvedev, now clearly shown to be a helpless stooge.
Putin retakes power even as sensational evidence has just been released of his extensive personal corruption while working in the local government ranks in the city of St. Petersburg. It was revealed long ago that just a short time after being plucked from his obscure post and deposited in the Kremlin, Putin received a Ph.D. degree from a local university based on a shamelessly plagiarized thesis. The world was warned from the beginning that Putin was a dishonest, dangerous man, but it paid no need.
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.