Vladimir Putin Kommersant Photo/Getty Images

Long Reads

The Putin Question

As war fever returns in Ukraine, the question of why Russian President Vladimir Putin went from would-be modernizer to aggressive autocrat is being revived. Whatever the reason – fear for his safety, a sense of historical grievance, or both – Putin’s inability to reform Russia’s economy seems certain to be his downfall.

WASHINGTON, DC – Russian President Vladimir Putin has at times garnered as much attention in the US presidential campaign as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. By having his minions hack into Democratic Party computers and pass the results to WikiLeaks, as credible security experts believe, Putin appeared to be trying to tilt the election Trump’s way. And Trump, besides calling on Russia to hack Clinton emails, seems to have returned the favor by accepting Putin’s reasons for annexing Crimea and denying the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. In Putin, many observers see Trump’s ideal of leadership: autocratic, unconstrained, and very idiosyncratic.

Back in Russia, Putin outdoes even Trump in dominating the news. Of course, he has the Kremlin’s mighty propaganda machine at his fingertips, one that ceaselessly projects his image as an omniscient, omnipotent Czar in a new-model televised cult of personality. Yet despite the presence of this wise Czar, Russia’s economy has nearly imploded, and appears on course for Leonid Brezhnev-style stagnation, if not worse.

Given his record of international adventurism and economic bungling, it is no surprise that Putin has fascinated, and appalled, Project Syndicate commentators for the 16 years of his rule. Ivan Krastev of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, may capture their point of view best: we are fascinated by Russia’s president “not because Putin is right, or even because he is stronger, but because he is taking the initiative,” while leaders in the West seem too timid and/or paralyzed to act.

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point, subscribe now.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/Ss1hbfx;
  1. Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and Donald Trump Getty Images

    Red Scares, Then and Now

    • Russia’s interference in American and European elections constitutes a serious offense. 

    • But by treating Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies as an existential threat, Western leaders are playing directly into the Kremlin’s hands, and validating its false narrative about Russia’s place in the world.
  2. Trump visits China Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

    China’s New World Order?

    • Now that Chinese President Xi Jinping has solidified his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, he will be able to pursue his vision of a China-led international order.

    • But if China wants to enjoy the benefits of regional or even global hegemony in the twenty-first century, it will have to prove itself ready to accept the responsibilities of leadership.
  3. Paul Manafort Alex Wong/Getty Images

    The Fall of the President’s Men

    • There can no longer be any doubt that Donald Trump is the ultimate target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

    • But even if Mueller doesn’t catch Donald Trump in a crime, the president will leave much human and political wreckage behind.
  4. Painted portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and late communist leader Mao Zedong Greg Baker/Getty Images

    When China Leads

    For the last 40 years, China has implemented a national strategy that, despite its many twists and turns, has produced the economic and political juggernaut we see today. It would be reckless to assume, as many still do in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, that China’s transition to global preeminence will somehow simply implode, under the weight of the political and economic contradictions they believe to be inherent to the Chinese model.