Putin Is Weaker Than He Looks

Alexander Motyl compares Putin and Yanukovych:

Whose rule was, or is, unstable? Yanukovych’s, obviously: the sultanistic regime he built was hyper-centralized, inefficient, and corrupt. It survived only as long as the people acquiesced in its existence. Once the mass demonstrations of November 2013 turned into a popular revolution, the regime quickly dissolved and Yanukovych was left on his own, without the support of either the masses or the elites. His systematic violations of the Constitution and his illegitimacy automatically conferred legitimacy on the people power from which he fled.

But here’s a surprise perhaps: Putin’s rule is equally unstable.

His regime is also hyper-centralized, inefficient, and corrupt. It—and Putin with it—can survive and enjoy neo-imperialist legitimacy only because it’s been the beneficiary of loads of free money derived from higher energy prices. Thanks to a vast increase in state wealth, Putin was able to buy popular legitimacy and still have enough to accommodate regime inefficiency and corruption. That’s about to change. Energy revenues are declining and will almost certainly continue to decline, as the West develops energy alternatives (shale gas, liquefied natural gas, and energy from other suppliers). With declining revenues, Putin will soon be exposed as a corrupt dictator unable to deliver neo-imperialism to the masses and embezzlement to the elites. Add to that the growing costs of his Crimean misadventure, and, sooner rather than later, Putin could become Russia’s Yanukovych.