What is so hard to understand is why this Russian leader has chosen the route of autocracy over the peaceful democracy so available to him as an outgrowth of his popularity. Why return to the totalitarian fabric of the Soviet Union? The answer is in the Russian predilection for strong leadership as a counter to a national paranoia. ~George Wittman

What else could we expect from an old member of the Committee on the Present Danger?  Reviving Cold War era fears is the stock in trade of such people.  These questions are absurd, and the national psychoanalysis isn’t much better.  Every modern nation is susceptible to the appeal of a strong leader as a counter to national paranoia about foreign threats–that’s why those who want greater power in the executive are always exaggerating threats and stirring up the public against various official enemies.  There is nothing particularly Russian about this.  This is how people everywhere respond to state propaganda, and it is also how they respond to genuine insecurity.  The Wittmans of the world would like us to ignore our part in contributing to Russian fears and anxieties and presumably do even more to cause them more worry, which will in turn guarantee increasingly authoritarian presidents in Russia.  The Kremlin’s best friends are not those who argue for a sober and rational approach to Russia policy (i.e., the “apologists”), but those who provide the Kremlin numerous pretexts to consolidate more power in fewer hands at home and adopt confrontational positions abroad.  If there are elements in the Russian government that thrive on building up the West as the enemy, the Westerners who are only too eager to oblige in that role are their enablers.  Naturally, leave it to hysterics talking about “the new god-king of Russia” to lecture other people about being irresponsible on national security!

Putin hasn’t chosen the route of autocracy, and people who keep using this word to describe the Russian government show that they haven’t a clue what autocracy is.  Autocrats don’t hand over power to successors, even hand-picked ones, and then settle for being prime minister.  Autocrats stay in power until they die or can hand over the reins to their offspring.  Autocrats also rule on their own, and not as part of an extensive bureaucratic and formally constitutional apparatus.  Yes, Putin is an authoritarian populist, not a liberal democrat, but we already knew that.  Talk of “the totalitarian fabric of the Soviet Union” is the sort of ludicrous American national paranoia that seems to be only too much in vogue these days.  It is an insult to the people who suffered under the actual totalitarianism of the USSR to compare what is happening today to that.

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