Putin may not be immortal, but he’s not going anywhere

Putin may not be immortal, but he’s not going anywhere

Five years ago, somebody posted photographs on the internet showing a man who looked a lot like Vladimir Putin in photographs from 1920 and 1941.

In both shots, he was in military uniform, defending the interests of the Russian people then, as he still does today.

But how can this be? He wasn’t even born until 1952. So the wave of faux speculation starts that Putin is an immortal hero who returns at intervals to save Russia. Or maybe just that he’s an immortal vampire.

At any rate, he’ll be around forever. It was nonsense then, and it’s nonsense now.

Last week, the Russian president announced a wave of constitutional reforms, and the vast majority of foreign observers, especially in the West, immediately jumped to the conclusion that Putin is changing the system so that he can stay in power forever.

Twenty years in power (his current term as president expires in 2024) is not enough for Putin, the foreign pundits insist.

He can’t risk leaving power, they explain, or Russians would start asking where his vast illicit wealth came from.

And then the pundits spin off into lengthy tirades about how he is evil incarnate, even comparing him to Stalin.

Joseph Stalin, who ruled the old Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, was a mass murderer without a conscience. Nobody was safe from his paranoia: he even killed most of the other heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution.

He was probably responsible for the deaths of 10 million Russians.

And Vladimir Putin? Here’s Simon Tisdall, columnist and former foreign editor of The Guardian: “Like Stalin, (Putin) has made many enemies and caused untold misery …. cronyism and corruption on a vast scale … military aggression and disruption abroad.

“Again, like Stalin, retirement is not a safe option for the ex-KGB spy who normalized assassination as a modern-day tool of state policy.”

Where to start? Perhaps with the obvious point that Stalin killed tens of thousands for every death that can be attributed to Putin.

Moreover, corruption in Putin’s Russia is far less than it was in the 1990s under the first post-Communist president, the western-backed Boris Yeltsin, a drunken puppet who made ordinary Russians cringe.

Military aggression and disruption abroad? Guilty as charged, in the illegal restoration of Crimea to Russian control (though most people in Crimea welcomed it), and in backing anti-government rebels in eastern Ukraine.

But there is a litany of western invasions and military interventions (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Syria, Yemen) that didn’t meet the highest legal standards either, and had equally messy outcomes.

Nor do western governments lag behind on the assassination front.

More importantly, Russia’s western border is a thousand kilometres east of where it was in 1914.

It is a minimum of 300 kilometres east of where it was as recently as 1991.

Putin has not challenged that new frontier once (with the partial exception of Ukraine) in 21 years in office. You could have a much more frightening and disruptive person than Putin in the Kremlin.

The old KGB was a ruthless organization, but also a rational and realistic one. Putin is a man steeped in that tradition, not an adventurer or a fantasist, and we should probably be grateful for that.

So what are the odds that he will still be running things after 2024?

He will be 72 years old in 2024: definitely time to start thinking about what happens after he’s gone. And I’m going to make a bold assumption here: that he is a Russian patriot.

Being Russian means that he fears disorder above all else: Russians sometimes call themselves “Italians of the north,” and they don’t mean it in a good way.

So he wants a strong state, run with a firm hand, even after he has retired, which means that a clear and orderly succession is very important.

However, living on under somebody else’s firm hand is not an attractive prospect for Putin. He may or may not have fabulous sums of stolen money tucked away – the evidence for that is unclear – but you make a lot of enemies in a quarter century in power, and they could hurt you badly after you have relinquished it.

So what Putin needs is a position that gives him the final constitutional say when big changes loom, but lets him withdraw from the daily exercise of power.

Something like the chairmanship of a strengthened State Council that can overrule both president and prime minister when necessary (but does so very rarely).

And lo! That appears to be exactly what he has in mind. The details of his proposed reforms are not yet clear, but a weaker president, a stronger prime minister, and a State Council presiding serenely from afar are all part of the package.

I’m not saying that’s what will actually happen, but I think it’s what he’d like to happen.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, accompanied by Premier Jason Kenney, in March when the pandemic had just started in Alberta. On Wednesday, Kenney said COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in three phases in the province. Photo by Government of Alberta
COVID-19 vaccine available to Albertans in January – distributed in 3 phases

Vaccine won’t be widely available until the fall of 2021

The G.H. Dawe Community Centre in Red Deer is getting a twinned ice rink, spray park and other upgrades as part of the 2021 capital budget. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer city council approves $43.3 million upgrade to G.H. Dawe Centre

In a 7-2 vote, the majority on council felt it’s about time

Olds College received 10 Angus heifer calves, donated by The Canadian Red Angus Promotion Society. (File photo)
Olds College and TELUS to develop new agriculture technologies

TELUS Agriculture is investing $1 million in the Olds College Smart Farm.… Continue reading

Const. Jason Tress leaves Red Deer provincial court. An RCMP officer, whose name is under a publication ban, testified Tress sexually assaulted her at a party in 2012. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Former Red Deer RCMP officer denies sexually assaulting colleague

Former Const. Jason Tress took the stand in his own defence on Wednesday

A new public washroom, proposed for downtown Red Deer, was tabled in the city’s 2021 budget discussions so more questions can be answered about the proposal. (Advocate file photo).
Proposed downtown public washroom is stalled in 2021 budget discussions

More questions need to be answered about the $511,500 project

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity to introduce new pitcher Shun Yamaguchi in Toronto on January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, left, and teammate Taylor Austin are shown during training in Whistler, B.C., in this undated handout photo. Montreal Allouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to pysching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he got ready to hop in a bobsleigh for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. Murrary-Lawrence, 27, is one of three CFL players who joined the national bobsleigh team after the league canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (99) celebrates with linebacker Isaiah Moore after Moore forced a Liberty safety during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Hyman, The News & Observer via AP, Pool
Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

A Canadian Pacific Railway employee walks along the side of a locomotive in a marshalling yard in Calgary on May 16, 2012. CP says an investigation is underway following the release of a video showing one of the company's trains running over dozens of pronghorn antelope in southwestern Saskatchewan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, holds a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020., to announce additional funds to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Wilner Cayo, centre, and Frantz Andre attend a demonstration outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office in Montreal on May 23, 2020, where they called on the government to give residency status to migrant workers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Most Read