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The Four Stages of Putinism

MOSCOW – In 1970, Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik observed in Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984? that “all totalitarian regimes grow old without realizing it.” Amalrik was right, and the regime established since 2000 by Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to fall apart – perhaps this year – for the same reason that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The Soviet Union’s collapse, it should be remembered, was not the result of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformist “betrayal.” Nor was it caused by falling oil prices or US President Ronald Reagan’s military build-up. Soviet communism was doomed long before then, when, as Amalrik predicted, the communist myth finally died in the hearts and minds of ordinary people and officials alike.

In a mere 13 years, Putin’s regime, with its grand ideological style, has passed through all of the stages of Soviet history, becoming a vulgar parody of each.

The first stage, that of creating the regime’s legitimizing myth, generates a heroic demiurge, the father of the nation. Whereas the Bolsheviks had the 1917 Revolution, the Putinists had the second Chechen war of 1999 and the bombings of apartment buildings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk that year. Thus was born the myth of the heroic intelligence officer who protects Russians in their homes while terrifying the nation’s enemies.