Corruption is the glue that sustains Putin’s grip on power

By | August 18, 2022

Oleg Kashin writes:

What’s easier to imagine — Vladimir Putin suddenly declaring an end to the war on Ukraine and withdrawing his troops or a Russia without Mr. Putin that revises his policies, ends the war and begins to build relations with Ukraine and the West on a peaceful new foundation?

It’s a hard one to answer. The war in Ukraine is, to a significant degree, the result of Mr. Putin’s personal obsession, and it’s hardly likely that he will voluntarily agree to end it. Which leaves the other possibility: Russia without Mr. Putin, with all hopes for a peaceful Russia tied to a change of power in the country.

That also seems pretty unlikely. Six months into the war, Mr. Putin’s power does not appear to be any less solid than it was during peacetime. His approval ratings are high, and he doesn’t have a single opponent in Russia whose voice can be heard. Of his two most likely successors — Mikhail Mishustin, the prime minister, and Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader — one is bound by loyalty to the president, and the other is in prison. For either to come to office, Mr. Putin would have to depart. But short of a sudden change of heart or medical emergency, he’s not going anywhere. Mr. Putin’s successor may well be Mr. Putin.

It’s a bleak prospect and one many find hard to accept. Why are no members of the ruling elite, faced with a president driving their country to ruin and themselves badly affected by the war, pushing for the removal of Mr. Putin? Where are the brave technocrats or functionaries who will, in the interest of their class and their country, contrive to oust the president? Such questions, given regular voice in the West, are more of a lament than a spur to analysis. But the answer lies close at hand.

For years, critics inside and outside Russia relied on one major theme to galvanize opposition to Mr. Putin: corruption. For a spell, the approach made some inroads, especially in the hands of Mr. Navalny, whose well-produced videos documenting corruption throughout the ruling elite — including Mr. Putin — appeared to dent the president’s popularity.

But corruption is the glue that holds the system together, not the catalyst to bring it down. Basing his power on the thievery of his subordinates, Mr. Putin’s goal was hardly to ensure their comfort and well-being. The point, more likely, was to bind the ruling class within a conspiratorial system of collective responsibility, ensuring its absolute solidarity. In this condition of complicity, no one could emerge to challenge the president. [Continue reading…]