Staunton, November 8 – Ever more people equate Vladimir Putin with Russia, something that for most Russians is a positive, but that for others is a negative thing, the editors of Gazeta say, noting that this “personification” entails “a serious danger “not only for the powers that be but also for the country as a whole.”
In an unsigned lead article yesterday, Gazeta says that this equation has gone so far that “the logic that ‘any attempt to create problems for Russians in the West is a personal move against Putin’ has become a commonplace of Russian official rhetoric” even though few appear to be thinking about its consequences.
On the one hand, the paper says, such statements “sound like a call to ‘unite around the leader’” or even a testimonial to the existence of that unity, one produced within the framework of “the so-called ‘nationalization of elites’” that Putin sponsored more than a year ago. But on the other, it has another meaning which may be just the reverse.
In such statements, Gazeta continues, “it is possible to see attempts to shift responsibility for everything which is taking place in the country and even in a specific group of companies on the one who really has concentrated in his hands all the fullness of power and the work of government institutions.”
Neither Russians nor anyone else has any doubt that “all the key political and economic decisions in the country are taken by Putin personally.” As long as things are going well, he is given credit for that; but when things aren’t, as now with Ukraine and sanctions, the fall of the price of oil and the collapse of the ruble, Putin may be held responsible as well.
“Not so long ago,” the paper continues, “the problems of the country could be written off as the work of stupid ministers, selfish oligarchs, the efforts of ‘liberals in the government’ and thieving regional authorities.” That was entirely consistent with the centuries-old notion in Russia of “a good tsar against bad boyars.”
But now because the equation of Putin and Russia has become so much greater than any such linkage in the past, it is becoming “ever more difficult to define the border between compliments to the chief of state and the desire to find him guilty for everything.” That is all the more so because no one else “feels responsible for anything.”
“In this sense,” the paper says, “’the nationalization of elites’ has really occurred.” Once again, its members have the views which Nicholas Berdyayev described a century ago: “The Russian man … loves Russia, but he is not accustomed to feel himself responsible before Russia.”
Thus, when Vyacheslav Volodin says, as he did at the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi, if “there is no Putin, there is no Russia,” the deputy head of the Presidential Administration was saying something rather more than “just a figure of speech.” Instead, Gazeta argues, “this is a mathematically precise formula for the description of the current state of Russia. But not of its future one.”
“Today, [Russia] both for Russians and for the world really is reduced to a single individual.” But there “undoubtedly” will be a Russia “after Putin.” And his personification with the country will have consequences for Russia long after he leaves power.
“History shows that in those countries were all successes are ascribed to one man, a moment comes when its nation begins to consider him the source of all misfortunes.” And because the state apparatus feels itself free from any responsibility, its members are quite ready to transfer their loyalty “to another master.”
The paper concludes with a quotation from Erich Fromm. The American thinker said such attitudes can lead to “such a degradation of mental capacities, initiative, and mastery that they will gradually lose the ability to fulfill the functions needed for the ruler.” And that is something that can have consequences even before he passes from the scene.