Vladimir Putin is not just a power-hungry autocrat, he is also the world’s most despicable thief

Vladimir Putin is not just a power-hungry autocrat, he is also the world’s most despicable thief. By Paul Monk.

President Vladimir Putin is manoeuvring to have himself installed as ruler for life in Russia. …

What Xi Jinping has done in China, what Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done in Turkey, what Rodrigo Duterte has done in The Philippines and what Nicolas Maduro has done in Venezuela all have a good deal in common. …

[Putin] is seeking to lock in a political framework to guarantee he will not be prosecuted, after he steps down [in 2024], for the vast scale of embezzlement and extortion in which he and his circle have engaged.

He is seeking to thwart political moves by wealthy and powerful Russian exiles, as well as domestic dissidents, to check his power or hold him to account. …

In The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, Masha Gessen explored the rise of the Putin regime through the lives of four Russians who were born in the last years of the Soviet regime and entered the 1990s very young, with soaring personal and social expectations. Those expectations were crushed as a new mafia state took a ruthless stranglehold on the country, with Putin at the helm. This is the issue at the heart of the matter and those troubled — rightly — by the faltering of democratic politics in the West in the past decade or so would do well to ponder the far more dire decay of politics in the new authoritarian regimes.

Putin’s Russia is a good place to start, if only because Russia is, broadly speaking, “Western” in terms of language, religion and long geopolitical involvement with the other states of the European world. …

The most striking themes are kleptocracy camouflaged behind romantic nationalism. Putin is a former KGB officer and extols Stalin and the Soviet past. But he is not a communist. His ideological camouflage is an opportunistic combination of Russian chauvinism, old Slavophilic or Russian Orthodox mysticism, anti-liberal “Eurasianism” and neo-authoritarian decisionism. But the practice is one of extraordinary and systematic theft and extortion. Putin and his cronies have siphoned off vast sums of money from the Russia they claim to champion and have stashed it in foreign — often Western — banks and havens. …

It is estimated that the President and his inner circle have stolen enough money that Putin himself might well be the wealthiest robber baron on the planet. …

Oil and gas have been the lifeblood of the Russian economy since the turn of the 20th century, and as Martin Sixsmith pointed out some years ago in Putin’s Oil: The Yukos Affair and the Struggle for Russia, it was through muscling in on hydrocarbons at the expense of independent oligarchs that Putin laid the foundation of his vast ill-gotten gains. Along the way he has had oligarchical enemies, political rivals, intelligence defectors and investigative journalists imprisoned, exiled, harassed and murdered.