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La Nausée Russe

MOSCOW – The history of successive authoritarian regimes in Russia reveals a recurring pattern: they do not die from external blows or domestic insurgencies. Instead, they tend to collapse from a strange internal malady – a combination of the elites’ encroaching disgust with themselves and a realization that the regime is exhausted. The illness resembles a political version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential nausea, and led to both the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Soviet Union’s demise with Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika.

Today, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s regime is afflicted with the same terminal disease, despite – or because of – the seemingly impermeable political wall that it spent years constructing around itself. Putin’s simulacrum of a large ideological regime simply couldn’t avoid this fate. The leader’s “heroic image” and “glorious deeds” are now blasphemed daily. And these verbal assaults are no longer limited to marginal opposition voices; they are now entering the mainstream media.

Two events have sharply accelerated the collapse of confidence in Putin’s regime, both among the “elite” and ordinary Russians.

First, in September, at the congress of Putin’s political party, United Russia, Putin and “President” Dmitri Medvedev formalized what everyone anticipated, with Putin announcing his intention to return to the presidency in March – and thus virtually declaring himself Russia’s dictator for life. His quest for eternal rule is driven not so much by a thirst for power as by a fear that he will one day be held accountable for his actions.