By Paul Goble
On his birthday in October, Vladimir Putin will become the same age Boris Yeltsin was when he left office 20 years ago. At that time, Putin was a vigorous 47 and Yeltsin an obviously ill 68. Now that Putin is approaching that age, Andrey Ivanov says, the current Kremlin leader increasingly is acting like his predecessor, especially in the current crisis.
It is all the more so, the Svobodnaya pressa commentator says, because if Putin remains in office until 2036 as the constitutional changes allow, he will be 83 – 25 years older than Yeltsin was when he left office. And the challenges he is likely to face over the intervening years are likely to be greater and the resources he will have to deploy against them smaller.
And that raises a fundamental and fateful question for him and for everyone else: with the passing of time, “will [Putin] be able to keep the situation in the country under control given the rapid changes in the world?” The answer is far from as clear as one would want (svpressa.ru/politic/article/261086/).
That is all the more so because if Putin remains in office until 2036 as the constitutional changes allow, he will be 83 – 25 years older than Yeltsin was when he left office. And the challenges he is likely to face over the intervening years are likely to be greater and the resources he will have to deploy against them smaller.
Ivanov spoke with historian Valery Skurlatov of the Moscow Institute for Innovation about this, and Skurlatov suggested that this is especially true because “over the period of Putin’s rule, Russia’s lag behind other countries has increased,” something that means there is no more to make up than there was and that Putin’s aspirations and resources are increasingly at odds.
In the course of the 20 years Putin has been in office, other leaders could have achieved far more than he has. “What do we see in Russia today? Above all, the modernization of the country has been cut off” and its isolation from the world dramatically increased, all the result of Putin’s policies.
Had Yury Luzhkov or Yevgeny Primakov suggested Yeltsin, Skurlatov says, “they would have been able to carry out the modernization” of Russia. And likely, they would have been able to avoid the missteps Putin has made that have isolated Russia and left it without any allies worthy of the name.
Moreover, the analyst continues, Putin has continued rather than broken with the Russian tradition of not dealing well with crises. The only thing that works well for him is state propaganda and the impact of his own remarks on the population and especially on its older age cohorts, Skurlatov says.
“For many elderly people, [Putin] is simply a real idol,” he continues, adding that he has “met many people who after the latest Putin speech almost with tears in their eyes speak about a rapid breakthrough and great successes of Russia.” That is because “Putin knows his country perfectly, knows its problems, and says what its people want to hear.”
Many say that Putin has kept the elites in line and the people attached to him, Ivanov counters. But Skurlatov says that neither is as hard a task as it appears: The elite supports him because its members fear that any change at the top would lead to their own loss of position and wealth.
And Putin has pursued a strategy of keeping the Russian people on “a short leash” economically. Those who have to worry how they are going to survive to the next paycheck are hardly going to go into the streets and demand political change. But Putin’s abilities in both cases are certainly going to be tested as he grows older.