The Eternal Putin

The sad truth is that, in Russia, history does indeed repeat itself, but, in a twist on Karl Marx’s dictum, as tragedy and farce at once. That principle will be on full display in 2012, when Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency.

NEW YORK – The only vote that matters in Russia’s 2012 presidential election is now in, and Vladimir Putin has cast it for himself. He will be returning as Russia’s president next year.

When the news broke – together with the lesser news that the incumbent, Dmitri Medvedev, will step down to become Putin’s prime minister – I wanted to scream, I told you so.I have always been puzzled by the naïveté of analysts, in Russia and abroad, who believed that Putin would never be so bold as to make a mockery of Russia’s electoral system by reclaiming the presidency. But contempt for democracy has been Putin’s stock-in-trade ever since he arrived in the Kremlin from Saint Petersburg two decades ago.

Anyone who thought that things would be different was either delusional or ignorant of Russia. Putin can’t help himself, just as he couldn’t help himself in 2004. Then a very popular leader – he restored to Russia its self-regard as a global power through deft use of the country’s control of a large share of the world’s supply of oil and gas at a time of limited availability – he would have won hands down. Yet he rigged those elections nonetheless: in the KGB tradition, people are simply too unpredictable to be left uncontrolled.

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