Vladimir Putin ensured his rise to power by orchestrating the blowing up of apartment buildings in Moscow and restarting Russia’s war against Chechnya. But he may have set in train his fall from power by supporting Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s plan to demolish the aging five-story apartment buildings known as “khrushchoby.”
That is because the second action eerily echoes the first in two ways:
- On the one hand, it represents an attack on the rights of Russians by their own government that only the most horrific but self-confident dictators would take and thus offends more than just those who are immediately affected, as some are pointing out.
- And on the other, both the bombings in 1999 and the demolition of apartment blocks now highlight the extent to which the Kremlin and its allies will do everything they can to defend themselves and their allies in the Russian “elite” even as they show no respect at all for ordinary Russians, their rights, and even their lives.
One of the most horrifying aspects of the 1999 explosions and perhaps the clearest evidence of Putin’s culpability was that a survey of local newspapers in Moscow at that time found no obituaries for those who had died in the bombings, something that suggests the buildings were targeted because those who killed were not politically significant to Putin.
Now, the RBC news agency reports that the Moscow city authorities say they won’t be tearing down khrushchoby in three city districts populated by the elites and their extended families, a limitation implying a similar calculation by the authorities to the one they made in 1999.
After blowing up the apartments in 1999, Putin moved quickly to blame the Chechens and to restart the war, actions that precluded much discussion about what he had done, all of the evidence including the failed effort in Ryazan captured on television footage pointing to him notwithstanding.
But now, after 17 years in power, Putin can’t blame the khrushchoby destruction on outside forces, his preferred tactic to deflect attention from what he is doing. Instead, according to Moscow commentators, he is supporting an action which offends not just the immediate victims but also all Russians.
That is because he is striking at the right of Russians to own their own homes, a right that Russians increasingly value as one of the most positive achievements from the demolition of the USSR and thus offending far more than the tens of thousands of Muscovites and likely others who will be “deported” from their homes now.
Indeed, as Moscow political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann puts it, “property for our contemporary is a sacred thing, a super value which it is better not to touch” and that an attack on it like the one Putin has launched could lead to “democracy via demolition.”
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