I helped select Vladimir Putin to succeed Russia’s first democratically elected President, Boris Yeltsin. Because KGB/Mafia structures now rule Russia and manipulate the judicial system, it is assumed that Yeltsin wanted to handpick his successor in order to avoid future prosecution. But we who chose Putin were charged with finding someone to continue Yeltsin’s reforms, not shield him and his family.
Indeed, Yeltsin was fearless, and sought not his personal survival, but the survival of the democratic idea that he introduced to Russia. Yet that idea is now under threat because of the successor we chose.
I don’t deny my responsibility for supporting Putin. We weren’t close friends, but he and I worked together in critical situations, and I never doubted his sincerity. Putin acts according to his convictions. The problem is that his convictions – including his belief that Russia can prosper only if it is ruled by a single source of power – are wrong. This gross error is leading Russia to political ruin.
Of course, no one holds high office without making mistakes, even fundamental ones, and this is especially true in tumultuous periods. Yeltsin was no exception, but he recognized his errors. When he retired on New Year’s Eve 1999, for example, he asked forgiveness for launching the war in Chechnya. Putin, by contrast, seems incapable of recognizing and admitting his mistakes, and persists in a policy long after its failure is visible to the world.