At the end of the Millennium on December 31, 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned and we Europeans heralded the dawn of the third millennium with great expectations, although the inexorable mathematical logic is that on the official calendar the millennium did not start until the year 2001.
However contrary to the great expectations. the political winds of our times changed, influenced by the controversial election of President George W Bush, who has had a lasting impact on America and the World.
With George W. Bush the spirit of trust and cooperation was gradually lost and the first cracks within the International community came to the surface with disagreements over the war of Iraq and multiple other issues, brilliantly expressed in the address on Iraq, by Dominique de Villepin, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the UN Security Council. New-York, February 14, 2003.
The old differences soon returned to our world, also stimulated by America’s DNA of conflict and war and US primacy in the world as a national security strategy, with Russia and China in opposition to this, challenging US geopolitical advantages.
During the first two term as President of Russia it must be recognized that after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union Vladimir Putin saved Russia from further disintegration and pulled the country out of poverty and enabled people to live normally again, with aspirations of returning Russia to geopolitical relevance.
But after ruling for two Decennia, in the labyrinth Vladimir Putin has created there are not many friends left. In this world, everyone is either an enemy or a potential enemy.
Today, alone in his Labyrinth with the understanding of how the reign of some of the former Russian autocrats ended, the President has most likely distrust, resentment and fear as his main companions.
As Vladimir Putin himself has said about abdication of past rulers, describing both Nicholas II and Mikael Gorbachev as weaklings, who in his view threw power to the floor concluding “I would never abdicate.”
The suggestion can be made, the dilemma of Russian power then and now is “much like the shark that can clean its gills by eating more.” as Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in “The Romanovs” describing Prince Alexander Menshikov (1673-1729) who was appointed generalissimus by Catherine I and had immense power.
“Menshikov could survive only by consuming more to safeguard what he already had. If stopped he would be destroyed and when the retirement of the leader is impossible without insurances, that he will not be prosecuted nor his fortune confiscated.” The same kind of insurances which were given to the Boris Yeltsin clan by Vladimir Putin which catapulted him into power.
As the relative end of his rule comes nearer the President is growing more isolated, both internationally as internally, having distanced himself emotionally from people who supported him earlier. As a consequence, the dependence on the security apparatus is growing and has tripled in size. This in turn seems to be limiting his view of the world at large and the day to day realities in Russia.
Through its history Russia has always had an adversarial relationship with Europe and although the West is far from blameless, this once again has led to the activation of a fictional problem, the decadent meddling West returned as a useful distraction.
Also influenced by the sanctions against Russian interests, Russia has become a growing threat to Europe as the killing of Litvinenko and the failed assassinations of Skripal, Gebrev and lately, Navalny and the destabilization attempts in Moldova, Montenegro and elsewhere in the European Union showed.
These attacks are unprecedented and have the purpose to protect autocratic values and to destabilize the foundations of democracy, which is confirmed by the decade long progressive erosion in the Russia-EU relationship.
The direction of Russia changed with reburial and rehabilitation of Ivan Ilyin who Vladimir Putin chose as a guide, the only and most important fascist thinker, who since 2005 has known a remarkable revival in Russia. Ilyin and his fascist ideas are used by Vladimir Putin in speeches to explain the past and why Russia has to undermine the decadent west and the European Union.
It is thereby an illusion of the Russian leadership to think that the free liberal order is “absolute” as Vladimir Putin has suggested, words which remind of the 1930’s fascists when they pronounced the era of the liberal democracy was over.
Alexei Navalny, although his importance is not very significant, is one of the latest targets in a long line of victims, from diplomats, bankers, defectors, and doctors, to crime and corruption fighters. All have shown themselves to be inconvenient to the regime, a government that is showing more weakness than strength and confirms the increasingly lawless character of the regime.
With the high level of sophistication in poisoning opponents that are perceived as damaging the interests of the state, this is the double edged sword laying in front of Vladimir Putin.
But there are also several more serious weaknesses in the system, namely the presidency for life, the absence of a successor without any mechanism to transfer power and secure continuity of Putin’s policies.
However when that times comes, a successor will be chosen in the same manner leaders have been chosen since Peter the Great, someone from the inner circle who will resemble Putin’s autocratic leadership style and his defence of Russian interests.
In addition, there is a level of dysfunction that is pushing the country in the wrong direction, from prosperity towards poverty, the same poverty which Putin had pulled the country out two decades earlier.
Due to his failure to modernize and reducing the dependence on the oil and gas sector together with the diversification of the economy and the necessary infrastructure as suggested by Alexey Kudrin the country is in structural decline both economical as in human capital. Caused by military adventures, the corona pandemic, sanctions and counter sanctions, and the self-imposed isolation. This is often the case with autocracies.
Today Vladimir Putin, the leader who saved Russia from ruin and achieved popularity and respect, has returned to his former KGB chekist persona. In his labyrinth with the intricate layout of its corridors in which most people get lost, the President is putting off decisions and is fighting the world with perceived and real internal and external enemies and in doing so has isolated himself and Russia more than ever before.
This is the nation Vladimir Putin will leave behind; poor, isolated, living hand to mouth; This is his legacy.