The country is a ‘managed democracy’: that is, one where elections are held, but the results are known in advance; courts hear cases, but give decisions that coincide with the interests of the authorities; the press is plural, yet with few exceptions dependent on the government. This is, in effect, a system of ‘uncontested power’, increasingly similar to the Soviet state, but without any ideological foundation, which is evolving through a set of stages that parallel those of Russian Communism. The first phase sees the heroic destruction of the old order, a time of Sturm und Drang – Lenin and Yeltsin. The second is a time of consolidation, with the construction of a new, more stable order – Stalin and Putin. The leader of the second phase always enjoys much broader popular support than the leader of the first, because he unites the survivors of the original revolution, still attached to its values, and the anti-revolutionaries, who detested the anarchic atmosphere and the radical changes it brought. Thus Putin today continues Yeltsin’s privatisations and market reforms, but creates order rather than chaos. The successor to Putin in the third stage – comparable to Khrushchev – is unlikely to be as popular as Putin, because the regime, like its predecessors, is already becoming more isolated from the masses.
Stalin enjoyed "much broader popular support" than Lenin? Right, after he killed off tens of millions of those that remained after Lenin's own feast, the rest obviously grew to love him.
Putin creating "order rather than chaos"? Like Stalin did, right? Ha-ha. Seriously, though, I think there's order somewhere in Iowa, or in Japan, but with hospitals like they have here, it's a mess, not order. And with all the bribe-taking.
Finally, maybe it's my lack of abstract thinking skills again, but I really don't understand how anyone can seriously compare Putin to Stalin, at any level, in any way.
What they like to remember of Stalin here now isn't the butcher, but the guy who won the war. Hence the Putin comparison, I guess. Whatever. It's true that Putin knows how to sound tough, but he was hiding like a sissy throughout the Beslan horror, God knows where, and then after it was over, he went on hiding behind the hastily devised initiative to appoint rather than elect Russian governors, which everyone, including the Western press, found too outrageous to ignore. (Then came another distraction from Beslan - the Orange Revolution - and Putin managed to be quite a star in it, too.)
Why not compare him to Brezhnev instead - who wasn't just a ridiculous, senile guy, the hero of so many Soviet jokes - "the mediocre personality," as he's described a few paragraphs later in the LRB text - but rather the man under whose regime people like Vasyl Stus, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Sergei Parajanov, Mustafa Jemilev, Pyotr Grigorenko, Andrei Sakharov and countless others were deprived of their lives/health/freedom/dignity (I'm copy-pasting myself, from here).
Putin is a lot more coherent than Brezhnev, that's true, but he's much younger as well: he's 54 now, while Brezhnev was 57 when he became the General Secretary and 75 when he died. Who knows what Putin is going to sound and look like 20 years from now... It may well be that the future dissidents would have to remake all those Brezhnev jokes into Putin jokes...