It would be historically incorrect to claim that everything that we have experienced with him in recent years was already in existence in Putin in the year 2000. Putin has changed significantly. The question now is: What part does the West have in this?

Right from the start, Putin’s reign was driven by an obsessive desire to restore Russia to an internationally accepted great power. Putin has never forgotten the humiliation of the loss of Soviet control over Eastern Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

These two dramatic events are probably among the decisive moments in Putin’s life, which decisively shaped his world view. Russia’s economic, social, and military collapse in the years that followed made clear to the advocate of strong Russian statehood just how rotten Russia’s material foundations were.

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The turmoil of the Yeltsin years is also the reason for his second political goal in life: strengthening the Russian state, which included eliminating the political role of the oligarchs as well as recentralizing the country. None of this would have been possible for Putin if he had not joined forces with his colleagues in the Russian secret services. These siloviki (holders of power) have been at the center of Russia’s leadership since Putin took office. Although Putin has also appointed liberal technocrats to government offices, their political influence is ultimately very small.

In Russia there is often talk of the “collective Putin” who governs the country. What is meant by this is the political, military and economic leadership, which Putin heads as an arbitrator, but also as the final decision-maker. These elites move closer or further away from Putin in concentric circles. This has also meant that decisions in political institutions, such as in parliament, are only approved, but the decisions are made in informal committees, which Putin appoints with supporters of his choice.

In this authoritarian regime, elections are formalized and ritualized processes that are of course not free and fair. Putin distrusts elections. This has to do with his experience when his mentor, St. Petersburg Mayor Sobčak, was ousted from office in 1996.

This distrust of elections was decisively reinforced by Putin’s second formative political experience. After the obviously manipulated elections to the lower house of the Russian parliament in December 2021, a surprisingly violent and month-long protest movement began. At the time, hundreds of thousands of members of the opposition shouted “Putin is a thief” and “For a Russia without Putin”. Never before and never since has Putin faced such open opposition to his administration. So it’s not surprising that Putin used all means to smash the opposition.

Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna

Putin was never convinced by liberal Western values ​​such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights. He openly declared that he wanted to establish a “sovereign democracy” in Russia that would do justice to the historical and moral traditions of Russian civilization. Nevertheless, at the beginning of his rule, Putin sought cooperation with the West. Putin was clear that without economic cooperation with the West, the Russian economy could not be modernized and his drive to make Russia a great power again would not be possible without this modernization.

Many characteristics of Putin’s personality have long been present and partially visible. But it must also be remembered that Putin has also been socialized by his experiences as president. In his view, he was betrayed, humiliated and marginalized by the West. These subjective perceptions have dramatically increased his hatred, anger, and distrust of the West.

Therefore, it would also be historically wrong to say that in 2000 everything that we have experienced with him in recent years was already planned in Putin – up to the invasion of Ukraine this year. Putin has changed significantly. The task of research will be to clarify what part the West played and still has in this.

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