The great Russian novelist Victor Serge wrote a series of novels highlighting “the victory in defeat” and “the defeat in victory” that many Russian rulers and revolutionaries have experienced, a reminder–if one is needed–that what looks like one of these things at one moment may rapidly turn into another.
Leonid Gozman, a Russian opposition politician and commentator, picks up on that theme to argue that Vladimir Putin, having achieved by his constitutional manipulation the possibility of remaining in office until his death has suffered a major and perhaps from the point of view of politics a fatal defeat.
Having considered the various means of keeping himself in power, the commentator says, Putin has apparently decided that “the most secure” is the Iranian. In that country, there continue to be “more or less competitive elections, a president and so on” but over all that is “the spiritual leader of the nation named to this position by Allah.”
[quote]Putin has decided that something similar will exist in Russia under him with only this difference: Russia already had nuclear weapons. And thus “in general, Moscow is a second Tehran and a third there will not be!”[/quote]
But in making this choice, Putin has suffered an enormous defeat. “The Iranian system offers people an idea – let us live according to the commandments of the Faith and they we will overcome all the injustice and abominations of the shah’s regime.” Many Iranians believed that although protests show that many are now disappointed.
Putin “in contrast offers nothing except his own power forever, not monarchy, not theocracy, and not even an open military dictatorship,” Gozman continues. As a result, what Russians have been offered is that they will “remain forever with the very same Putin and with the very same problems,” hardly the basis for anyone to be enthusiastic.
[quote]More than that, the commentator says, Putin “has suffered a defeat in the main thing. He has not been able to hold power with the preservation even of his own absolutely imitation democracy. He has not been able to cope with the task of keeping his position and rule of the country even within those institutions which he himself established.”[/quote]
The Kremlin leader “or course dreamed of having eternal absolute power but simultaneously maintaining the appearance of a civilized country. But now instead, he has fallen back into the middle ages not only de facto but de jure. He wanted people to love him but they are now laughing at him.”
“He wanted to rule by the will of the entire land, but ever more often he will be forced to rely on force,” despite the fact that bayonets may be good for many things but they are not the most comfortable place to sit. More than that, Putin wanted to be “a member of the Club and speak as friends with presidents and kings.”
[quote]They will keep talking to him because Russia is too important to ignore, “but after their handshakes, they will carefully wash their hands and count their fingers.” And meanwhile at home, he will be forced to acknowledge his defeat because of the decisions he has taken which have thrown Russia backwards into the past.[/quote]
This is not a happy place to be, and Putin likely will feel that he has “nothing more to lose,” Gozman suggests. That means he will increasingly turn to aggression. “He cannot count on returning to the Club and this means new adventures and new wars.” And his own people will increasingly be ungrateful.
But as the protests in Iran show, “this is not forever.” Rather it is another step in “the agony” which Putin is experiencing and inflicting on those around him.
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