The Rasps of Putin’s Political Machine (Op-ed)

For years, the Kremlin has been busy filtering out rogue actors — rogue from the Kremlin’s point of view. Lawmakers who refused to cooperate were phased out to make room for “expert policymakers” on the Kremlin’s payroll. Businessmen were expropriated not because Putin was a communist (by no means), but in the name of national security — the Kremlin’s security experts will tell you so. Newspapers which refused to cooperate were stopped not because they were independent but because, in the Kremlin’s view, they were funded by adversarial, often foreign, interests — the Kremlin’s media experts will tell you so.

The public figures, entrepreneurs and journalists who are no longer present in the political scene are absent not because of their beliefs — they hold diverse beliefs — but because they stood in the way of experts. The Kremlin has no ideology, at least not in the 20th-century sense of the notion. But the Kremlin does believe in the power of expertise. The security expert makes life safe. The policymaking expert runs domestic politics. And media experts finetune the Kremlin’s PR, rather than party, line.

But recently, the Kremlin’s machine has become too visible and its screeching too loud. We will hear more of it.

Some in Russia expect Putin to embark on a major political adventure. When caught in similarly dire circumstances in the past, Putin has responded by unleashing a crisis of his own making: A military operation abroad or a major political reshuffle at home. What is he preparing this time? Perhaps a falling out with Japan’s Shinzo Abe over the Kuril Islands?

The only element missing in the Kremlin’s, and often the pundits’, calculations is a living person. Actual humans seem increasingly superfluous to the Kremlin’s fine statecraft. The political machine has worked so well in past years that the only challenges the leadership saw were exotic problems. Reaching a certain number of votes in an election was a kind of political sport.