This is my second attempt at creating an interactive article, and now that more people are regularly commenting I hope it will bear fruit.
There’s this idea I’ve been kicking around lately. Is Russia’s problem really Putin, the man, or rather the system that was built up around him? Are all the worst aspects of that system his own idea, or did he trust the promises of his underlings who engineered the whole system?
This is predicated on the commonly accepted fact that Putin does not micromanage- he sends out broad messages and then underlings scramble to fulfill what they believe to be his real wishes, swiping a cut here and there while they do so.
That Putin is at the top of the pyramid is not necessarily the same as him actually controlling everything, an idea that most informed people doubt. A key feature of the system is that Putin is supposed to be the highest authority. Whether or not he actually masterminds something is irrelevant, the important thing is that actions should not contradict what he wants or what he supposedly wants. In this respect, on at least some issues Putin is playing a passive role as this sort of standard. I would not be surprised to learn that some initiatives are defended with arguments such as “Putin would approve of this,” while others are criticized with arguments such as “that would go against the president!”
None of this absolves Putin of any guilt in taking part in this system and playing the lead role in it. That is not the purpose here. This is a thought experiment. The question is about who is really in control. Is it Putin the man, or is it Putin the character, the hero figure? Understanding this will no doubt help determine the future of Russian politics if not the country as a whole.