Putin’s Ironic Potential

MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin’s recapture of the Russian presidency has been met with widespread derision, both at home and abroad. But the autocrat’s return to the Kremlin could be Russia’s best hope to escape stagnation.

With his open contempt for Russian society – exemplified in his mocking response to widespread demonstrations – as well as his arrogance, readiness to stifle dissent, and fear of competition, Putin has singlehandedly quashed the long-held myth that he himself propagated: personalized power can modernize the country while preserving stability.

To be sure, Putin’s Kremlin – and his corrupt cohorts – still calls the shots. And, while his decision to return to the presidency has vexed the most dynamic elements of Russia’s urban population, the rest of the country’s citizens remain unhappy but quiescent. Likewise, Russia’s demoralized intellectuals and political class, on whom the population relies to advocate change, neglect to act. The global rise in oil prices, endemic fear of change, lack of a viable alternative, and reliance on state hand-outs are keeping Russia in a state of inertia.

Moreover, Putin’s Kremlin has used the West – eager for engagement and a policy “reset” with Russia – to legitimize its authoritarian rule and to provide opportunities for its venal cronies’ integration into Western society. Indeed, by using the West to launder their dirty money, Putin and his cohorts have, in a way, avenged the Soviet Union’s collapse by undermining the West’s principles and discrediting liberal democracy in the eyes of the Russian population.