Andrei Piontkovsky: History repeating for Putin's Russia

THE history of authoritarian rule in Russia displays a certain depressing regularity. Such regimes rarely perish from external shocks or opposition pressure. As a rule, they die from some internal disease – from irresistible existential disgust at themselves or from their own exhaustion.

Tsarist rule withstood many harsh tests during its long history: peasant revolts, conspiracies and the alienation of the educated class. In January 1917, from his Swiss exile, Lenin noted with bitterness: "We, the old, will hardly live till the decisive battles of that forthcoming revolution. But …the young maybe will be lucky not only to fight, but finally win in the approaching proletarian revolution." By the following March, however, Tsar Nicolas II was forced to abdicate.

General secretary Yuri Andropov died in 1984, leaving a country cleansed of dissidents. But when one of his former regional first secretaries, Boris Yeltsin, signed a decree banning the Communist Party, none of 18 million party members went to the streets to protest.

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Today, Vladimir Putin's once seemingly impregnable regime may be fading in the same way as its predecessors. In just ten years, Putinism, which was consciously designed by its image-makers as a simulacrum of a great ideological style, has run through all the classical stages of Soviet history. Indeed, Putinism now seems like a trite parody of all of them.

First comes the creation of a formative myth for the new system, one that generates a demiurge-hero – the nation's father. Where the Bolsheviks had the October Revolution and the subsequent civil war to deify Lenin, Putinists used the second Chechen war to raise up Putin as national saviour.

The second stage is the tempest – when the country is stoically remade through the leader's iron will. Where Stalin had his monumental drive to industrial modernisation, Putin boasted of making Russia a great energy power.

Next comes heroic triumph. The Soviets had the great victory over Hitler's Germany in the Second World War. Putin's supposedly heroic victory came in the war with Georgia of 2008, followed by the subsequent virtual annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

From heroic victory, however, exhaustion invariably follows. Under the Soviets, this stage lasted about 40 years. But Putin's simulacrum of Sovietism began to collapse much faster, partly by virtue of the fact his regime's ideology never had much substance to begin with, and so couldn't begin to be used as a prop.

Indeed, at the onset of the financial crisis, Putin tried to bestride the world, portraying Russia as an island of stability and demanding a new global financial order, with the rouble to become one of the world's reserve currencies. But that position was quickly reversed.

No-one should think Putinism will disappear tomorrow, even though its jackals are already circling.

As it atrophies, the great hope among his immediate circle is they will be able to do what the Communist elite did in the early 1990s – hijack whatever new system emerges and put it to work in the service of their own interests.

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• Andrei Piontkovsky is a Russian political scientist and a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.