Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin Nation

Vladimir Putin’s political genius is that he understands that, for Russians, being perceived as powerful is even more important than actually being powerful. That is why neither he nor his presidential factotum, Dmitri Medvedev, will have to make good in 2010 on promises to modernize Russia decrepit economy and backward society.

MOSCOW – “Image is everything” might be a viable credo if you are the house of Gucci or a catwalk model, but it is definitely not appropriate as a national strategy. Yet “Putinism,” the ruling ideology of the Russia that Vladimir Putin has forged during his ten years in power, is all about image – the image of a reconstituted great power restored to the world stage.

The problem is that, unlike the rail thin catwalk model who starves herself half to death to stay slim, the image of Russia that Putin seeks to project is completely imaginary. The Russian economy is a shambles, and Russia’s mighty military had to exert itself to its fullest to vanquish tiny Georgia in 2008.

Of course, Russia’s rulers have usually preferred myth to reality. After all, it was during the reign of Catherine the Great that the “Potemkin village” was invented, whereby the squalor of the lives of Catherine’s serfs was hidden behind cheerfully painted housing façades as the Empress toured her country.

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