Umair Ali looks at a dwindling career
Vladimir Putin was brought up in the claustrophobic Soviet world that was globally known for its bravado and maintaining a public front irrespective of intense reverses suffered in policies throughout the existence of the Soviet empire. The current conduct of Vladimir Putin is therefore expected to be commensurate with the attitude of the leadership of the former Soviet Union and despite being aware of the gravity of the Ukraine situation, he will always appear casual and foolishly overconfident.
The gravity of the situation however must not be measured by the public pronouncements of Vladimir Putin but by the ferociously deadly Russian missile barrage against Ukraine. It was retaliation against the taking out of the Crimean Bridge delivering, a real blow to Vladimir Putin that was celebrated by Ukraine by tauntingly issuing a celebratory postage stamp, along with sabotaging the Nord Stream pipeline. Seen this backdrop Putin’s career appears to be fast hurtling towards the abyss and resembles the end of the careers of his predecessors who once remained supreme in the Kremlin.
Like all dictatorial leaderships, the trouble for the leading henchman arrives when he leads his cabal into a war that appears unwinnable. As long he maintains his winning streak he is invincible and all his right and wrong actions are accepted without question. In this context, the classic example is the dictatorial rule of Stalin who stayed in power despite his reign of terror spanning three decades simply because he won the Second World War for the Soviet Union when the chips were down for the communist country in the world.
Stalin’s Successor Nikita Khrushchev
Interestingly, Stalin was not a native Russian, and hailing from Georgia meant that he represented a minority ethnicity in the multi-ethnic Soviet Union but his strong personality ensured that the nascent socialist revolution maintained its steam and endured the rigors of the war and he was able to stamp his authority on the country.
On the other hand, Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev was deposed in October 1964 had embarrassed the Kremlin in the Cuban Missile Crisis, when his aggression and bluster were followed by retreat. His bravado and bluster initially did have an impact on the people of the Soviet Union and President Kennedy were duly embarrassed by Khrushchev’s tirade at their summit meeting but he called his bluff when he sent missiles to Cuba.
The cabal at Kremlin, led by his closest acolyte Leonid Brezhnev, accused him of mismanagement, nepotism and tactlessness, retired him on the pretext of poor health, and died in obscurity a broken man seven years later in 1971. Leonid Brezhnev was allowed to die in office though his policy of invading Afghanistan failed it was reported that he was rendered powerless before his death as the old guard led by Yuri Andropov who remained KGB chief for a very long and succeeded Brezhnev ultimately.
Gorbachev was held responsible for the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan though he was not responsible for this misplaced adventure as it was essentially the hubris of Brezhnev that committed Soviet forces to initially assist the communist revolution in Kabul and then landed Soviet troops that invaded Afghanistan unleashing a spate of violence that continued with a brief respite till 2021 though the players kept on changing.
KGB Rolled Tanks Vladimir Putin
The politburo was not only upset at the Afghanistan reversal but was also extremely angry at Gorbachev’s attempts to reform the Soviet Union and the result was a coup attempt against him in 1991 while he was at his Black Sea house. The KGB rolled tanks into Moscow seized state television and announced Gorbachev was leaving for health reasons but massive crowds gathered in the streets opposing the coup and the pro-democracy figure Boris Yeltsin took to the top of a tank to urge resistance.
The army broke, the KGB backed down, and Gorbachev returned to Moscow. However, Gorbachev’s era was over as Moscow was Yeltsin’s now and a few months later Gorbachev stepped down with Yeltsin declaring the Soviet Union over. Yeltsin was mostly drunk and erratic and was considered a lightweight and mercurial. In his sixth year in office, he appointed a short-statured, unimpressive-looking, young new head of the domestic arm of the intelligence service named Vladimir Putin who gradually and imperceptibly clawed his way through the labyrinthine world of the Kremlin and reached the helm.
He ensured his survival by dismantling or defanging some of the institutions that might go up against him and managed a tight ship. He has never desisted from shedding blood and it cannot be said that he is a fully rational actor like Gorbachev. Yet the omens are obvious and Putin must be aware of who his opponents are within the close-knit cabal. The problem is that he cannot wish away the stigma of the reverses he has faced in the war against Ukraine whom the Russian ruling oligarchy considers to be much beneath its status to be able to stand up to it. That is where the door closes for Putin. The Weekender