Devouring Deripaska

Bret Stephens has a new one in the Wall Street Journal, teeing off on Vladimir Putin for his surprisingly public betrayal of Oleg Deripaska, scapegoating him as a “cockroach” whose inordinate greed costs the jobs of so many Russian workers.

Welcome to the third stage of Putinism. In Stage One, Mr. Putin played the role of the determined technocratic modernizer who wanted to do nothing more than impose the rule of law on a young democracy spinning into anarchy. This stage ended in October 2003, with the arrest and subsequent conviction and imprisonment of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky on dubious charges of tax evasion and fraud.

In Stage Two, Mr. Putin dispensed with the technocratic mien and, Bonaparte-like, effectively crowned himself czar, surrounded by a new breed of loyal oligarchs and ex-KGB cronies. They generously help themselves to other people’s investments, foreign energy companies especially. This stage lasted as long as the rise in energy prices, culminating with last year’s invasion of Georgia.

Now we’re at Stage Three, in which Mr. Putin morphs into Hugo Chávez, as high-handed as before but with a populist twist. This is the stage in which guys like Mr. Deripaska allow themselves to be publicly humiliated by Mr. Putin, thinking they’re taking one for the team when, in fact, they’re taking it in the neck.