Russia, Iran, and the Perils of Post-Autocracy
With Russia facing defeat on the battlefield and massive protests once again engulfing Iran, both countries’ regimes look vulnerable. But the end of tyranny is more likely to lead to a dangerous political vacuum than to a democratic transition.
STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – Sometimes a news cycle constitutes more than just noise. It provides a loud, uncanny signal about what may lie beyond the horizon. That happened this month, when a more hopeful, dangerous, and radically different geopolitics came into view. Within literally a few days of each other, we have witnessed the near-collapse of the Russian army in Ukraine and the humiliation of a regime in the streets of Iranian cities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s soldiers revealed themselves to be little more than a mob on the move, having tortured and mistreated the civilians under their control, they abruptly abandoned their positions and literally ran away from advancing Ukrainian forces. Putin’s fascist-trending national security state may be turning to ashes. His threat of nuclear war only reveals that autocratic regimes are at their most dangerous in the years before they expire.
As for Iran, the regime’s disrepute among its own subjects has been on full display, with massive protests engulfing dozens of cities and crowds demanding the end of the Islamic Republic. The rage, spread by social media, was ignited by the death at the hands of the so-called morality police of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for not properly wearing her hijab. But the fuel was decades of repression and corruption, and a ruined economy.
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