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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Threat inflation in Russia

While America ponders and laments its 2016 presidential choices, I'm again sorting through old clippings torn from magazines. This snippet seems especially pertinent as it is from a profile of Vladimir Putin, published about a year ago in Time. As I've noted before, Putin's consolidation of power has depended at least in part upon fear appeals.

Donald Trump (and other conservatives and/or Republicans) have been praising Putin for a couple of years now -- and, arguably, forming new policy proposals that are oddly aligned with Russia's interests. For example, the Republicans platform went soft on Russian involvement in Ukraine and Trump often says NATO is obsolete.

Essentially, the Time story linked above notes that the bureaucratic structure Putin has created foments threat inflation:
Most of the top jobs in the security services, the government and the powerful state corporations went to the members of Putin’s St. Petersburg circle, which came to form the core of what Minchenko calls the Politburo 2.0. The structure of this body differs drastically from its Soviet incarnation. Whereas the old Communist Party bosses met regularly to decide the affairs of the state together, Putin keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet all at once. This helps prevent any groups from creating a coalition against him, and it also “makes Putin indispensable as the point of balance,” says Minchenko. “Without him the system doesn’t work, because everyone is connected through him personally.” 
But there are major drawbacks. As the rival factions compete for Putin’s attention, they tend to exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. The intelligence services, for instance, might overstate the threat from foreign spies, while the oil and gas tycoons might play up the danger of competitors in the energy market. When Putin meets separately with each of these factions, “he hears from all sides that there are threats everywhere,” says the political consultant Kirill Petrov, who has worked with Minchenko in mapping the elites. “It’s not a healthy atmosphere.”
The story's main point is that Putin is an autocrat, which makes him a strange figure for Americans to emulate:
One of the figures in Minchenko’s diagram, the senior counselor to Putin who spoke on condition of anonymity, concedes that this informal system of relationships breeds paranoia. But the system’s bigger flaw is its total dependence on just one man. “It is power without institutions,” says the adviser. “It means we have no solid ground beneath us.” The state is Putin, and Putin is the state.

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