Putin and the Uses of History

Putin and the Uses of History

Mini Teaser: “I do not need to prove anything to anyone,” declared Vladimir Putin. Convinced he is the steward of his country’s future, Putin masters Russia’s history—and seeks to manipulate it.

by Author(s): Fiona HillClifford G. Gaddy

Putin’s emphasis on history, however, reveals a weakness. There is a difference between being the student and the writer of history. The honest student of history learns from mistakes of the past. But the writer of history who seeks to leverage it for contemporary aims glosses over these mistakes. When mistakes are whitewashed, learning from history becomes more difficult. A leader can no longer stand back and draw dispassionate conclusions.

As we have observed through our Valdai encounters and other interactions with Russia and its leaders, the political system Putin has shaped over the last twelve years is highly personalized and heavily dependent on him remaining at the center. He approaches every interaction as a hands-on recruiter and views other individuals as sources of raw intelligence. He does not seem to rely on others for direct counsel or interpretation of people or events. Just as he approaches his reading of history, Putin takes in information and makes up his mind. He has difficulty delegating to others—as the recent experience of the tandem with Dmitri Medvedev illustrates. The limitations of the system he has created are evident. Once Mr. Putin is gone, all bets are off on Russia’s political future. At present, there is no scenario for Russia without the great survivalist Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Fiona Hill directs the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution and is an expert and frequent commentator on Russia. Clifford Gaddy is a senior fellow at Brookings and an economist specializing in Russia.

Image: www.kremlin.ru

Image: Pullquote: Putin wants Russians and Russia to be the same as he is, one strong personality with multiple facets, not multiple personalities.Essay Types: Essay