Summary of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” 2013 book by F. Hill and C. Gaddy of Brookings.

Bottom-line: Authors argue Putin has 6 identities (statist, history man, survivalist, outsider, free marketeer, case officer) that have contributed to his ascent and past success as ruler of Russia, but note that the same identities have now become his vulnerabilities that prevent him from embracing changes needed to make Russia competitive. See key points below with my comments in Italics

Background: his book represents a significantly revised and expanded version of “Putin and the Uses of History,” Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, National Interest, 01.04.12.

Central question: “Is Mr. Putin still the person best suited for the task of governing Russia over the next decade? Has he evolved and changed along with the rest of the country?” The book argues that he has not evolved and needs to do so or else Russia will be “in trouble.”

I. Putin’s six identities

1. Statist:

  • Putin’s conclusion from Russia’s history: the danger of repeated “times of troubles” that have risked the collapse or disintegration of the Russian state and, therefore, he believes strengthening of the state is of utmost importance and should be the new Russian Idea.
    • utin has re-formulated the imperial Russia’s Russia Idea of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality” as “sovereign democracy” featuring “restoration of the guiding and regulating role of the State.”
    • Authors note Kokoshin’s role in efforts to formulate a Russian Idea: “The concept of a Russian Idea had many prominent proponents before Putin featured it in the Millenium Message (of 1999). One of the first was Andrei Kokoshin.  Kokoshin circulated a treatise on Russia’s national security and “military might” in 1995 that argued Russia could not revive unless it came up with a new national idea.

2. History Man:

  • Putin’s inclusive approach towards history–no period of Russian history should be excluded, not even Bolshevism.
    • Authors compare Putinism to the philosophy of the emigre family of the Komarovs featured in Nabokov’s Pnin novel: “Only another Russian could understand the reactionary and Sovietophile blend presented by… the Komarovs, for whom an ideal Russia consisted of the Red Army, an anointed monarch, collective farms, anthroposophy, the Russian Church and Hydro-Electric Dam.&rdquo
  • Pyotr Stolypin, the reformist PM under the last czar, has become Putin’s role model of choice, a historical figure who justifies both Putin’s policies as prime minister and his program for the further development of Russia.  

3. Survivalist:

  • Putin’s lessons from the history of the Leningrad siege were compounded by his own experience of being the city official responsible for bringing post-Soviet St. Petersburg through the food crisis in the winter of 1991–92 and explain the decision to accumulate rainy day funds during boom of 2000-2007. I thought Finance Minister Kudrin proposed the idea and fought hard to keep the funds from being spent during years of growth.
  • Putin’s recollections of childhood includes key lesson he drew from being beaten up: “Always be ready to instantly respond to an offense or insult. Instantly!”

4. Outsider:

  • All St. Petersburgers are, by definition, outsiders to the Moscow power center, and many in this particular group had, like Putin, spent periods of time outside Russia or the USSR.
  • Having spent years when perestroika gained momentum outside USSR (in Dresden) “Putin probably has a very different, much more uniformly negative, version of events of the late 1980s than his peers in St. Petersburg or Moscow.” “This may be one of the reasons why Putin found it so hard to connect with the younger generation of protesters who took to streets in 2011-2012.”

5. Free Marketeer:

  • ldquo;Judging by the abysmal economic record of St. Petersburg. Putin’s credentials as an economic policy-maker were not good.” But under President Putin, Russia grew between 1999 and 2008 from the 23-largest economy to the ninth largest and its growth rate over this period was twice that of China.

6. Case Officer:

  • Putin was never a spy or a thug in the KGB. His skill was working with people – Putin’s real mission in East Germany was to recruit functionaries and Stasi officers to back Gorbachev.
  • Putin viewed the Yeltsin family, the oligarchs and others as destroying the Russian state. How to deal with them? Putin became the operative in the Kremlin, the man who would recruit and co-opt them and turn them back into servitors of the state on his terms, not theirs.
  • Putin doesn’t fire his proteges even if they prove to be ineffective, unless they prove disloyal, because he treats them as assets that he has recruited as a case officer

Putin’s identities constrain flexibility needed to react to political awakening of middle class:

  • Russia’s current political system is a logical result of the combination of Putin’s six identities, along with the set of personal and professional relationshipsHow about some Model I and II analysis, to discern impact of the stage of Russia’s socio-economic development and other underlying factors have had on Russia’s political system?
  • “The six identities, which at one time were a source of Putin’s strength, had become vulnerabilities by 2012.
  • ldquo;The question is whether the (2011-2012) protest movement will gather greater force over time and if so, whether Putin can maintain control.” As we know the protests have dwindled from 100,000 to less than 10,000 per protest, but the growing political awareness of growing middle class is nog going to disappear, so while the threat of instability has subsided in short-term, it remains formidable in the longer-term.
  • Putin is “trapped by a dilemma that will persist throughout his 2012-2018 presidential term. His strategic long-term plan to rebuild and restore Russia is based on human capital. The bearers of Russia’s future will be precisely this new urban middle class” that staged massive protests after his announcement that he would return to the Kremlin. “Putin has no real grasp of who they are and how to connect with them
  • “Putin risks repeating the mistakes of (Soviet) past by clinging to an inflexible system that cannot find ways to engage and accommodate critical societal groups.” agree.
  • ldquo;If Putin does not find a way to open up his system, Russia cannot make the transition to a modern, economically competitive democratic society without large disruptions.” The 2011-12 stakeholders’ revolt points in two different directions for Russia at this juncture: either to a renewed period of reform and political change, or to another even more uncertain of troubles.” Seems like imposition of what could be a false dilemma.  What about continuation of status-quowhy isn’t that a possibility at least in short-to-medium term if oil prices don’t decline too sharply and for too long?

II. Other key points

Putin’s management method

  • “Loyalty is ensured through blackmail. Corrupt, even illegal, activity will be kept secret as long as the individual continues to play the game.”
  • Putin’s views on preparation for contingencies and public administration in general are heavily influenced by American business-school textbook “Strategic planning and policy” written by William King and David Cleland.  The book defines planning steps as follows: (1) define mission, (2) set objectives, (3) formulate concrete goals and (4) pursue those through programs and projects.  In Putin’s extrapolation of this method, Putin makes strategic decision for Russia while juridical owners of big resource companies are supposed to achieve specific goals. The CEO of Russia Inc. makes the decision with advice from key confidants while other stakeholders need to rely on ‘ombudsmen’ he has designated for maintaining communications with them (Kudrin for new opposition, Shuvalov for investors).

Flaws of Putin’s management system

  • The system is faltering also because (1) Russia is not a corporation, (2) deep mistrust among key players and “extreme, even hyper-personalization of the system.”
    • Medium-level officials refuse to assume responsibility and keep passing the bucket up.  Putin is frustrated by that, but has failed to fix that flaw because a real fix would require delegating authority and encouragement of horizontal ties which would be a departure from his vertical of power model.

III. Miscellaneous (Optional).

  • Putin came with the idea of holding mayoral elections in St. Petersburg in 1996 several months early to catch rivals of his boss unprepared. Interestingly, authors do not draw parallel with the decision to hold Russian presidential elections early in 2000, which Putin won. For me, this could be a sign that Putin played a major role in devising the scheme with early resignation of Yeltsin in 1999 even though he had earlier claimed that Yeltsin had presented him with a fait accompli.
  • ldquo;Key oligarchs and others who have made a deal with the Kremlin and have responsibilities within the informal system are not allowed the option of cashing out.” Not true – oligarchs can cash out as long as they pay exit fees. Roman Abramovich and Suleiman Karimov have sold off much and all of their assets respectively in Russia.
  • In his report to the 14th Congress of the Bolshevik Party in December 1925, Stalin argued for the need to balance the budget, maintain a stable currency, keep inflation low, avoid dependence on Western loans, and build up financial reserves
  • Chief of Soviet General Staff Nikolai Ogarkov told a U.S journalist: “We will never be able to catch up with you in modern arms until we have an economic revolution. And the question is whether we can have an economic revolution without a political revolution.