Putin vs. Putin

Brian Whitmore writes: The emperor is at war with his inner godfather. The autocrat is battling his inner kleptocrat. The commissar is struggling with his inner crime kingpin.

The most consequential political battle in Russia today is not another skirmish among the Kremlin clans; it’s not a showdown between the siloviki and the technocrats; and it’s not a standoff between the regime and the opposition.

No, the battle defining Russia’s next political season is one that appears to be going on between Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Putin.

As the Kremlin leader culls his inner circle, purges the elite, and tries to enforce some limits on the massive graft that pervades Russian politics, he’s also fighting with himself.

And that is because Putin is something of a hybrid.

As veteran Russia-watcher James Sherr has noted, genealogically Putin is a product of the KGB, but sociologically he is a product of the Darwinian chaos and gangster capitalism that marked Russia’s first post-Soviet decade.

Putin’s political DNA may have been formed in Lubyanka, in Yury Andropov’s KGB, where order, hierarchy, discipline, and Soviet great-power ideology were paramount.

But his political socialization took place as vice mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s, where, as Karen Dawisha notes in her book Putin’s Kleptocracy, one of his key roles was acting as a liaison between the political and criminal authorities. [Continue reading…]

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