PRINCETON – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anointment of Alexander Medvedev to succeed him in what is supposed to be a democratic presidential election next March shows that Russia’s leaders have not changed a whit. It looks increasingly likely that, as under Leonid Brezhnev, we will see the same names in the news for decades to come.
According to Gleb Pavlovsky, the Putin regime’s leading ideologist, the current Russian system is perfect in all respects but one: it doesn’t know its enemies. Indeed, it seems as if everyone in the Kremlin is reading Carl Schmitt, the Nazi legal theorist who taught that naming your enemy is the central mission of politics.
In the spirit of Schmitt, Putin’s men designated a liberal party, the Union of Right Forces, as their ur-enemy. Its public meetings were broken up by armed police; its leaders arrested and beaten; Putin called its supporters “coyotes.”
What is surprising is that this aggressive behavior occurred in response to no visible danger. Oil prices are soaring, as are Putin’s approval ratings. His appointees control everything that matters, from Gazprom to the Central Electoral Committee. Since the pacification of Chechnya with violence and subsidies, the incarceration or emigration of a few financially viable opponents, and the massive “social investments” of recent years, which, under Medvedev’s personal supervision, have bribed the population, no credible force can seriously challenge Putin’s men. Yet their regime is in crisis, and they know it.