Russia without Putin: A first approximation

Customer at an appliance store in Russia watches Vladimir Putin on big-screen TVs
At this stage of his political career, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems more a virtual presence than a hands-on ruler (source: dpa)
  • Russia’s politics has degenerated into positional warfare under a disengaged ruler
  • Vladimir Putin’s new team of thirty-something technocrats are good machine politicians
  • The machine needs little from Mr. Putin except an end to confrontation with the West

“Putin’s Russia” is not something unchangeable or immovable. For 17 years, the Russian political regime has been continually changing, and each time the best barometer has been how the role and image of Vladimir Putin himself has shifted. The state of play and leadership lineups in Russian politics have largely depended on these fluctuations.

Signs of another transformation are gradually accumulating, and modifications to Mr. Putin’s role already disclose the faint outlines of Russia’s future political regime. Surprisingly, the man at the center is becoming, horribile dictu, less important. The regime he constructed has become self-regulating in many ways, while the power elite seems to have learned how to keep its war of all against all to a smoldering guerilla status rather than turning it into a war of extermination.

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