Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (rhymes with Rasputin) has discovered how to play czar — lurk in the shadows and let some poor slob catch the blame.
His choice scapegoat to succeed him turned out to be — big surprise! — his favorite ankle-biter, one Dmitry Medvedev, looking for all the world like it was his turn to head the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
No sooner had Putin elevated Medvedev, the figurehead “chairman” of the Kremlin owned-and-operated gas works, than the putative “president” reached right around and returned the favor, signifying Putin would be his “prime minister.”
Of course, those musical chair-hops are subject to the March 2008 “elections.” The Russian “constitution” prohibits Putin from serving more than two consecutive hitches. Without all those quotation marks it’s one big Potemkin Village in Russia anymore.
The skids are now greased for Putin to ascend to marionette-in-chief, pulling the strings that make everyone in Russia who matters — a vanishing minority — tear a tendon doing the Cossack squat-and-kick dance.
You can bet the name Rasputin is not unknown to Putin. He couldn’t possibly have spent all those years in the KGB apparatus without having picked up a little Russian history. Trouble is a little history can be a dangerous thing.
During the Romanov dynasty Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, 1869-1916, was convinced, as is Putin in post-Cold War Russia, that he was onto one sweet deal. The Mad Monk from Siberia had the ear of Czarina Alexandra, who in turn had Czar Nicholas II by his.
Even as Rasputin whispered idiocies to the czar’s wife, who then hen-pecked hubby into promulgating them, so Putin will be able to instruct what may appear to be his czarina stand-in, namely president-to-be Medvedev.
Poor Medvedev, though. His presidency is only a stand-in internship. The authentic jumping jacks on the end of Putin’s strings are the members of his privately held United Russia Party (URP), which is an acronym as well as a deserved eructation.
By controlling the election of the URPers in the Russian “parliament” — there they go again, those quotation marks — Putin controls the entire government, figureheads, borscht-heads, Medvedev-heads, the whole Kremlin-load of burglars.
The real czarina is the URP.
A President Medvedev will be nothing more than Putin’s patsy who has the honor of taking all the heat for what Rasputin Putin cooks up for the URP to dish out on the table for the Russian people to like it or lump it.
It’s a nifty arrangement for Putin. He doesn’t have to put up with the caponized Russian newsies and their pesky cameras, and it gives him more free time to slip out of dreadful Moscow, whip off his shirt and grab some politically correct serious rays while pretend-fishing.
The game worked for Rasputin until it stopped working for Rasputin. Whatever personal privileges the czarina allowed him in her palace, they could not have made up in advance for the unpleasant way he departed the field of play. One rumor has it that he disagreed with something he was slipped in his favorite cake. Other versions include non-stop stabbing, shooting, beating, gouging, booting and, to top it off, tossing Rasputin into an icy river. All agree, however, he didn’t go handily when he went.
The point for Putin is: Rasputin certainly wasn’t loved to death, not even universally admired to pieces.
While Putin may not wind up in exactly the same manner, the Rasputin game will work for him only until it stops working for him. And the reason Rasputin’s game stopped working for him was that other denizens of the ruling crowd agreed among themselves there would be more to go around if there were one fewer.
The Bolsheviks settled that problem for them most unpleasantly at Ekaterinburg and back in the palaces, leaving no rulers to betray and no spoils to split.
Russia today is full of wealth just ripe for the plucking, an inviting pie for all the other crooks to insist upon its being divvided up among one crook fewer.
As accomplished a schemer as Putin may think himself to be, the reality is he’s not nearly the master Rasputin that Rasputin was. The KGB, which bred and raised Putin, was if nothing else a conglomerate of klutzes — and its residue still is.
Putin and Rasputin share the same fatal flaw: They both based their power on the arrogant presumption they could do without the Russian people. Rasputin totally ignored them. Putin effectively disfranchised them.
When Putin’s Rasputin game is up, Putin had better watch his diet. Poisoning — by whatever name — is such a grand, old Muscovite tradition.
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com.
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