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The West reacted predictably when Vladimir Putin announced he would stay in office after his current term was over. Of course, this was greeted with claims of “dictatorship” outside of Russia. These claims may be justified on the face but are not very insightful. To begin with, it is important to recognize that Putin’s background, parentage, and upbringing have been carefully confused in official rewriting. There are few facts that seem consistent. It seems fairly sure that his father was a mechanic, but he was raised by his grandparents in most reports. Who his mother was is disputed in several accounts, though there now seems to be agreement on Maria Ivanova Putin (family name: Shelonova). None of this seems to matter very much except that he came from a “working class” family.
What is important is the general agreement that Putka, as Putin was called in his early years, seemed to be fascinated by the organization of the secret police, the NKVD, as it was then called. It has been said that he would hang around the local offices of the organization in his hometown of Leningrad becoming a sort of mascot of the officers. This is the official version, but it also is one that is popularly accepted. In any case, it’s good for a start.
As he grew older, his “friends” in the building purportedly were instrumental in his going to university to study law. Along the same lines he is supposed to have chosen to study both English and German. Actually, these details matter little because the result has been the creation of a formidable professional KGB officer. This is a characterization Putin has retained throughout his later political career. By the way, his bio also is careful to mention his training in Russian martial arts and judo. Frankly, it is all most likely true, or close to it. In other words, Vladimir Putin is an authentic Russian intelligence success story. There is nothing artificial in what you see, and his Russian competitors know this far too well. What you see is what you get.
Yes, it’s true that Putin has what legitimately may be called a “KGB” mindset. He operates strategically to prevent what he sees as U.S. efforts to surround Russia with pro-Western governments and similar political movements. This is not an element of his imagination. The United States has been trying to do this for years. Putin’s counteractions started with setting up both covert and overt activities to undercut American efforts. These have advanced over the years to use various economic schemes – like the “east to west” oil pipeline in Europe to offset the overall superior American economic influence. The fact is that in 2019 over 50% by value of Russian exports went to Western Europe. Obviously, Putin and his strategic team have advanced well beyond the previous Soviet and Russian leadership groups, and little Putka intends to keep it that way.
This brings us to the issue at hand – the present need to maintain the controls and influence that are the hallmark of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Putin believes he cannot afford to leave the reins in anyone else’s hands at this point – not with a growing relationship between Washington and Beijing (the coronavirus aside). The increased role of the U.S. in the Middle East is seen by Putin as both an advantage and a disadvantage. He and his team are happy to see the Americans bogged down in Middle Eastern terrorism and national conflicts. On the other hand, circumstances in the region also increase American influence and strategic assets that have the potential of perceived danger for Russia.
What would you do if you were Vladimir Putin? If you could retain your power position, you would stay where you are. That is exactly what is happening. But there is even more at play than these strategic issues.
There are a host of personal matters that keep Vlad on the job. It may be hard to accept but Vladimir Putin truly believes he is the only person in Russia with the brains, will and commitment to lead his country at this time. This would be construed as pure conceit, except for the fact that it is hard to argue against his logic. Another important factor is that both friend and foe of Putin are at the very least “used to” working with him and his hand-picked team. It really is amazing how the world of international affairs is committed to “the devil they know” even if they don’t really understand him.
Perhaps most important, from Putin’s own point of view, is the fact that being “the boss” is his own vision of himself and something to which he has worked his entire life. What else would he do? Relax in some Russian spa? Write a book? Teach at Moscow University? No way! Little Putka has nothing else he can or wishes to do. Heck, being the #1 guy in Russia is a pretty good job. Why leave?