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Some thoughts on Putin’s logic, what we’re ascribing to him, and what we are missing by focusing on this reshuffle as a grand plan to stay in power. There are other things at play here. He wants to build up institutions capable of rule without him. THREAD 1/
Sure, in the constitutional changes he’s proposed, and in the government reshuffle, he’s building options on how to formally exit the presidency while retaining power for himself. 2/
Sure, he wants to stay in power. But it’s not really about that. He also wants to build solid government institutions that will outlast him. To stay in power, he could change the constitutional limits on the presidential term. But he didn’t in 2007, and he didn’t now. Why? 3/
Because he doesn’t want to stay on as president. Now, we’re getting into Putin’s head territory, so I want to say that I am reconstructing this logic based on 20 years of listening to what he says and talking to people who have talked to him. I could be wrong down the line. 4/
But I just don't see him as wanting to rule as president. And I see at least two explanations, that are not mutually exclusive: 5/
1) He really is tired and he really does want to leave. He is not someone who enjoys power for power’s sake, but at this point rules because he thinks things would collapse without him, or because he, his friends or his family would not be safe. 6/
2) He genuinely values strong institutions. Now bear with me here. In some ways, personalized autocratic rule is a system that he built, even as he might genuinely find it distasteful. And Russia’s weak institutions are weak because of that system that he has perpetuated. 7/
How can he value a state based on strong institutions, while in effect building a personalized, deinstitutionalized system? If that’s what he built, isn’t that what he wanted? 8/
Problem is, he values strong institutions, but he doesn’t trust Russian society to build them. 9/
Putin prizes order, efficiency, and institutional rule. His patronage of Medvedev’s anti-corruption and modernization campaign during the placeholder presidency of 2008-2012, however half-hearted, is testament to that. 10/
His PM appointment of Mishustin, who has overhauled the tax service to be polite, digital, and easy to use, is also testament to that. 11/
But Putin, incorrectly, I think, sees citizens as not ready for democracy: people have described conversations with him to this effect. By his logic, the way towards order, efficiency & institutional rule is through a degree of management incompatible with Western-style democracy
It’s not necessarily right, and it hasn’t necessarily worked in the way that he wants. But right or wrong, I think this is how he imagines things. 13/
And, it explains all the “sovereign” or “managed democracy” constructs used to get out of practicing democracy without actually admitting to something so insulting and patronizing as “Russians are not ready for democracy” (a view which I hear a lot among some Russians, btw). 14/
He wants it both ways: building solid, depersonalized institutions, but also keeping the reins of power to a)step in if things go wrong (by his own reckoning) b)ensure security for himself, his people, and their assets. 15/
A strong Parliament, a strong Prime Minister, a revamped State Council lay the foundations of solid institutional rule, if not democracy, leaving Putin with options for an overseer role so he can step in if need be, or help replace a successor who doesn’t fit the bill. 16/
It’s sovereign, managed “democracy” 2.0. It’s weening institutions off of Putin, in a way. I don’t know if it’s workable, but that seems to be at least a part of the long-term logic of it all based on the comments I’m seeing and the conversations I’ve had here. END.
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