Yesterday, I posited the idea that Vladimir Putin aspires to the glory days of the Russian empire before the collapse of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of Communism. Specifically, there are parallels between Putin and Czar Nicholas I who ruled the country from 1825 to 1852.
In fact, Putin rules over Russia like a czar of days gone by with near total control. He has embraced and elevated the Russian Orthodox Church and pushes many of their agenda items. He is a secretive and self-disciplined geopolitical tactician who no doubt draws on his experience as a judo black belt. Like many of the czars, he also presides over a cult of personality that appears somewhat comical to Westerners (the iconic picture of him bare-chested on the back of a horse).
Yet this macho nationalism that he resonates is exactly what many Russians craved after the chaos of the breakup of the Soviet Union. As such, Putin now views himself as the bearer of a special morality and a special feeling of justice with Russia and the Russian people above everyone else. He is certain about Russia’s historical mission and that mission is empire. And the best way to assert that mission is through demonization of the spiritless West.
Initially, Putin secured his power through a network of cronies from his hometown of St. Petersburg. That has expanded since to exacting obedience from the Russian security forces. Objectively, Russia is a weakened power after 75 years of the failed Communist experiment, the rampant corruption during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and some missteps by Putin himself. He realistically knows this, but also realizes that he can count on the reluctance of many to challenge his ideas and actions thus making him appear stronger than he actually is which is why he sports approval ratings above 80%. He casts himself as first and foremost concerned about stability. But the irony is that his veneer of domestic stability is predicated upon international instability…..