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Helping Russia avoid Putin kleptocracy

Putin's move to reclaim the presidency could allow him to rule nearly as long as Stalin did. Will Russians tolerate such a long period of pervasive corruption?

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Revolutions often ignite over pervasive corruption – or rather when enough people demand integrity in government. Arabs had that aha moment this year. In Russia, the moment may be soon with news that Vladimir Putin plans to take back the presidency.

Mr. Putin does not appear the greedy sort, but his harsh consolidation of power has created a political system ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt – worse than Haiti’s or Nigeria’s. Other nations might want to start planning for another Russian revolution in coming years, given what the US Embassy in Moscow has called a “virtual mafia state” centered on the Kremlin.

Polls show a declining popularity among Russians for the once highly admired Putin. And the widespread corruption – estimated at $300 billion a year in kickbacks and bribes – will only hinder necessary reforms to prevent economic troubles as Russia’s oil production declines.

Putin was president from 2000 to 2008 and then, barred under the post-Soviet Constitution from a third consecutive term, he picked a placeholder, Dmitry Medvedev, to hold the office for four years. Behind the scenes, though, Putin still held the reins as prime minister. Last weekend, he announced he would run for president in elections next March.

His victory is assured because he has eliminated most of the organized opposition. And he can use his autocratic kleptocracy to stage-manage the election. In effect, the “Putin era” could run from 2000 to 2024, or longer than the reign of most dictators, and close to how long Stalin was in power.

Long before 2024, however, Russians may be frustrated at both the political stagnation and lost economic opportunities. More than a million Russians have fled the country in recent years, many of them educated middle-class – turned off by the rampant graft and a political elite that amasses personal wealth.


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