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Perceptions of Putin’s Power

Nina Khrushcheva has an interesting piece on Project Syndicate today about how Russia is keeping up appearances:

Then in October, remembering the victims of Stalin, Medvedev wrote in his blog (itself meant to convey how up to date he is): “We can hear voices saying that those numerous deaths were justified by some supreme goals of the state. I am convinced that no development of a country, no success or ambitions, can be achieved through human grief and losses. Nothing can be valued above human life, and there is no excuse for repressions.”

Of course, if Medvedev actually meant what he says, he would be leading the opposition to the Russian state that Putin has built. But, since Putin put Medvedev in his job and can remove him any time he pleases, Russia’s President is not opposed to the ways of the Putin regime. So what is going on here?

Putin’s political genius is that he understands that, for Russians, being perceived as powerful is even more important than actually being powerful. He does not need to modernise Russia so that it can actually compete with the world’s mightiest powers; he just needs to bluster enough to make people – particularly his own – believe that Russia is once again among the first rank of nations.