Sasha Lensky

How Vladimir Putin stays in power

Russian president Vladimir Putin (Credit: Getty images)

With Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine well into its attritional phase, Western aid to Kyiv seems to be drying up. No clear strategy at all, it seems, has been found for dealing with the Russian leader. Some hope internal divisions at the Kremlin will lead to a collapse, others that an anti-Ceausescu-style uprising – as in Romania in 1989, culminating in the leader’s brutal execution by his people – will miraculously give the coup de grace to the president’s ambitions. Certainly, if Putin were to rule in a genuinely authoritarian manner, either of these things could happen. But up to now he’s been far too wily and flexible for that.

‘Russia is basically North Korea these days, isn’t it?’ a British friend asked recently. As the Kremlin flings out its laws and eliminates competitors – sometimes physically – you could be forgiven for thinking so. But actually there are many differences.

A system like North Korea’s is defined by state control of its citizens – not only their political or professional activities but also family and sex life too. True, Putin in the past few months has made steps in this direction – criminalising LGBT+ as ‘an extremist organisation’, laying the groundwork for an abortion-ban, and urging Russia’s women to have ‘eight or more children’. But in a country whose average birth rate is 1.5 and where rock bottom salaries make paying for even one child a challenge, he must realise this is pure fantasy. This isn’t to say standards of living are similar in the two countries either. Russia has fossil fuels to sell, North Korea does not, and while the latter’s citizens are, according to UN estimates, at growing risk of starvation, every other Russian, say the Ministry of Health, is overweight.

Russia is thus very different from the classic model of a repressive regime

Then there’s the relationship between people and leader.

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