Now that the Russian Supreme Court has rubber-stamped the proposals effectively making Vladimir Putin President for Life, the Africanisation of Russia is all but complete, merely awaiting the mascara of a plebiscite. Mrs Tereshkova must now be so relieved (see the previous blog.) It is of no comfort for a Russia which wishes to see itself as a European country, or a “normal” country in Russian parlance, that this is a tradition going back to 19th Century Haiti with an illiterate population only just freed from slavery.
Putin now joins a less than illustrious club of fellow “Leaders” for Life: Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Idriss Déby of Chad, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, plus many more who died or were unceremoniously ejected from office like Robert Mugabe in the last decade. It is not an end to anxiety for Putin but rather the beginning of a new kind of anxiety that Stalin well knew. The fate of the President is thereafter in the hands not of the benign electorate or party but the less than benign string of potential successors. Shakespeare reminds us that Caesar ended up on the floor at the hands of his formerly loyal supporters.
Not everyone who attains this exhalted position can make it till they pass away through natural causes. The point is that once the job is taken, a significant number of the most ambitious in Russian politics above the age of fifty will see that they have prematurely reached the ceiling of power and can progress no further. This then creates a climate in which conspiracy begins to rot the upper stratum of government. In order to allay fears of the consequences, the President will inevitably begin purging and regularly cleaning the decks of the upper ranks among those alone who can secure a transition of power through the only means to hand: namely the armed forces and the FSB. Thus what we will witness is the inevitable transition from a very imperfect democracy to a climate of fear of intimidation at the top of the political system.
The best boxers usually quit the ring before the next fight humiliates them or renders them completely punch drunk. They withdraw gracefully just at the culminating point of victory. That option has now gone.