Foreign Affairs assures: Putin entered his “Stalin phase”

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The head of the Kremlin is seen as increasingly paranoid, intolerant and irascible, like the former Soviet dictator in his last years of life

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Foreign Affairs says: Putin entered his “Stalin phase”

Vladimir Putin, in front of a banner with images of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin (via Reuters/file)

As the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, becomes more harsh and repressive, improves the image that the Russians have of their former leader Joseph Stalin. Between 2016 and 2021, the claim that “Stalin was a great leader” doubled from 28 to 56 percent, according to surveys conducted by the independent center Levada cited in the article written by Andrei Kolesnikov in the journal Foreign Affairs. At the same time, in those five years, the number of people who disagreed with that statement fell from 23 percent to 14 percent.

Over the years, Putin has become increasingly paranoid and repressive, which makes him similar to Stalin in his last time at the head of the Soviet Union. Around the end of World War II and until his death in 1953, the dictator of Georgian origin made his administration a ironclad autocratic dictatorship . He was less and less intolerant of opinions, disbelieving even those closest to him and imagining fictitious scenarios of a paranoid type.

The same seems to be happening now to Putin, who has been almost 20 years as President of the Russian Federation. During that period, he modified the Constitution in his favor.To entrench himself in power, he staged the poisoning and arrest of the opposition Alexei Navalny and, as if that were not enough, in February of this year he began a war with catastrophic consequences for the whole world that is still going on and that does not seem to have an end in sight.

This 2022, without a doubt, has been the year in which Putin has taken his regime further than imaginable. Russia has become atotalitarian-type personal autocracybased on the cult of personality and heroic death for the country, both classic elements of the Stalinist ideology.

Foreign Affairs says: Putin has entered his “Stalin phase”

Vladimir Putin visits a transport hub under construction at a tourist complex in the Tver region, Russia November 7, 2022. Sputnik/Maxim Blinov/Pool via REUTERS

For the analyst Andrei Kolesnikov, the similarities between the current Putin and the Stalin of recent years are found in the way of leading. Both agree in the belief that decisions are made by a single person: in this case, them. They do not listen to the voices of their advisors and relatives and it is very difficult to change their minds when they are convinced of something. Putin even surpassed Stalin in personalizing his regime . The former Soviet leader used to give speeches in the first person plural, on behalf of the country: “We will shoot them,” he said. While the current head of the Kremlin is inclined to take a more personal and individual stance: “My actions were the right ones at the right time”, he responded when asked about the decision to invade Ukraine.

Putin also borrowed from the Soviet dictator his way of dealing with his own regime. In his last years on visa, Stalin trusted virtually no one, not even the closest of his inner circle. It was very common to see him take out his anger against his collaborators, as is the case Viacheslav Molotov , the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his deputy for a long time. Putin for his part, has also shown signs of irritability towards his relatives. In a televised meeting with his advisers, prior to the invasion of Ukraine, the leader was shown alone at his deskin a large columned room, with his advisers relegated to a corner. There he was seen getting angry with his foreign intelligence chief, Sergei Naryshkin, after the latter confused Russia's recognition of the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine with their incorporation into Russia.

In that same meeting, Putin was seen having a bad conversation with Dmitry Kozak, a former collaborator who had been responsible for negotiations with Ukraine on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Coincidence or not, after that meeting Kozak was never seen publicly again.

Foreign Affairs says: Putin entered his “Stalin phase”

Vladimir Putin with former Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Kozak and Energy Minister Alexander Novak at the launch ceremony for Gazprom's Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China

Another of the lessons Putin learned from his idol is the conviction that the use of military force is the only way to solve problems. Just before the start of World War II, Stalin was unable to obtain from Finland the territorial concessions he wanted, so he decided to start an invasion with the aim of seizing parts of the territory that it considered strategically important as a buffer zone in case of an attack on its own country, Kolesnikov says. Like Putin with the Ukraine, Stalin invented a pretext to launch his invasion and staged a provocation at the border. In this way, he allowed his troops to start a war “legitimately”.

Both leaders deceived his people by claiming the existence of a accumulation of enemy troops that never existed. However, they made the same mistake: underestimating the resistance of the invaded people.

Alone in power

In a country without democracy, Putin has failed to create a mechanism for transferring power, since, like Stalin, he has no intention of relinquishing it . Thus Russia is trapped in a vicious circle, Kolesnikov argues.

Foreign Affairs says: Putin entered his “Stalin phase”

A Russian Communist Party supporter stands next to a portrait of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during a May Day rally in Moscow, Russia, May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File

As Stalin's Soviet Union, it seems that Russia today has no alternative to Putin. This translates into the non-existence of an alternative path and the uselessness of an opposition. As with Stalin, the Russian elites will simply have to wait for Putin meets his end. That is why his health is so important. In Soviet times, the state of health of the leaders was less known, but those closest to him knew that he was not well.

Putin, at 70 years old, you could follow a similar path. In part, he has already done so, especially at the regional level, where he has given the governorships to young people loyal to him. Although he is close to Stalin's age at the time of his death ( 74 years old ), he looks healthier and stronger . But, at the same time, he will have to learn a lesson from Stalin: the hatred and fear of his circle can be counterproductive . Stalin experienced it first hand when he suffered his last stroke. In the hours when he could possibly still be saved, his collaborators did not come to his aid and he ended up dying practically alone. Today Putin seems stronger, but it is not clear who could save him if he were to lose that strength.

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