I spent an idyllic 7 days in northern Italy last week. Thought it would be appropriate, and evocative, to read Machiavelli’s The Prince on the flight over. One passage struck me:
From this a general rule is drawn which never or rarely fails: that he who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because the predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.
Upon reading this line, Boris Berezovsky immediately came to mind. An astute and forceful man, he was instrumental in bringing Putin to power. In true Machiavellian fashion, Putin wasted little time in ruining him.
Indeed, Putin is clearly (consciously or naturally) a devotee of Machiavelli. Which makes me believe that he recognizes that anyone he might elevate to power to replace him in the Presidency of the RF would distrust him for his astuteness and force. Unlike the old and tired Yeltsin, who posed no real threat to Putin, a young and vigorous Putin would be an omnipresent and existential threat to his successor. No successor is likely to sit comfortably in the President’s chair with Putin in the background–and Putin knows this.
How can he protect himself against the Machiavellian ruin at the hands of his successor like that he dished out to Berezovsky–or worse? (After all, Boris is still exchanging O2 and CO2 in very comfortable circumstances in London, though he must dread every bite he takes.) Are kompromat and a coterie of bodyguards enough? Maybe. But I am sure that Putin recognizes that his position (and his person) would be much more secure as President with the full powers of the state apparatus at his disposal, than as an ex-President relying on blackmail and blackguards for protection.
Which leads me to believe that the consummate Machiavellian Putin will be President 46 weeks from now, and for many years after that. That is, I would lay much better than even odds that Putin will engineer some way to remain in power–de jure, not just de facto.
The most likely way to achieve this outcome? To foment some crisis that will allow the Duma to rationalize changing or circumventing the constitutional term limits on the President. The escalating rhetoric against the US (especially over the laughably trumped up hysteria over the missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic), the tatterdemalion opposition, ineffectual NGOs, and spies and malign foreign influences seems calculated to create an environment of paranoia and fear that can be exploited to create a crisis–or an illusion of crisis–that Putin will exploit to retain his grip on power. The rhetoric–and violence real and potential to back it up–are clearly escalating. I expect it to reach a crescendo early in 2008, with a crisis arising soon thereafter–long enough before the election to give the Duma time to act, but not so long as to require maintaining the crisis atmosphere for too long, as this would run the risk of things spinning out of control, or of people figuring out that they were being had.
That’s what Machiavelli would do.