This is what Yeltsin did to Russia's parliament when they were being stubborn.
Maxim Katz is an unlikely Russian politician. There is his Jewish surname, his youthful age of 27, and his long, flowing dark hair. There is also his choice of profession: A former poker national champion, Katz now makes his living by staking promising poker players to big-pot tournament games, in return for a cut of the winnings. He didn’t even live in Russia for an eight-year stretch, from 1993 to 2001, when he resided in Tel Aviv.
Alexei Slapovsky’s 2010 novel, March on the Kremlin, opens with a young poet being accidentally killed by a policeman. Not knowing whom to blame and what to do, the poet’s mother picks up the body and, cradling her dead son in her arms, walks almost unconsciously toward the Kremlin. Her son’s friends trail close behind. Across the city, just as the mother is starting her long trek in pursuit of justice, an aging drunkard decides that his brother, who died the previous night, deserves to be interred by the Kremlin walls. So he, too, heads toward the Kremlin.
Vladimir Putin, rather suddenly, is shifting from Good Czar to Bad Czar in the minds of the Russian people. A telltale sign—even more startling than growing street demonstrations against his rule—was the jeers that greeted his appearance at a recent martial-arts fight in Moscow. Putin, as his image makers have incessantly reminded since their man scaled the Kremlin heights eleven years ago, is an ardent sportsman with a black belt in judo.
We’re supposed to be living in an Age of Democracy, but not every world leader, it seems, has gotten the memo. Vladimir Putin announced last week that he plans to return to the Russian presidency next year, and he could stay there for two more six-year terms, until 2024. Putin has been Russia’s dominant ruler since 2000—the last three years, as Prime Minister, nominally junior to his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, the current president, but only nominally. Medvedev, as suspected, turned out only to be a seat warmer. So the mask is off, and Putin and Putinism stand triumphant.
Barack Obama convened his first official summit before he was even elected president. In October 2008, then-candidate Obama gathered a gaggle of business and political heavyweights--Paul Volcker, Eric Schmidt, Jennifer Granholm, Bill Richardson, etc.--in a Florida community college gymnasium for what his campaign billed as the “Growing American Jobs Summit.” “No cheerleading,” Obama admonished the 1,700 people who packed into the sweltering gym expecting a campaign rally.
RAMZAN KADYROV, one would assume, is hardly the sort of man the Russian government would want to show off to a group of foreign dignitaries. The Moscow-appointed president of Chechnya has been accused of deploying his several-thousand-man-strong personal militia—since absorbed into the Chechen government—to torture and murder his opponents, and many suspect that he played a role in the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist who exposed Russia’s brutal repression of separatists.
I. In the early 1990s, optimism was understandable. The collapse of the communist empire and the apparent embrace of democracy by Russia seemed to augur a new era of global convergence. The great adversaries of the Cold War suddenly shared many common goals, including a desire for economic and political integration. Even after the political crackdown that began in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the disturbing signs of instability that appeared in Russia after 1993, most Americans and Europeans believed that China and Russia were on a path toward liberalism.
IMAGINE THAT THE king has died. Now imagine that every day on television you see a procession of people chanting, “Long live the king!” Imagine it wasn’t always this way: Just a few years ago, if the king’s health became shaky, everyone discussed the problem openly. But no more. And now you have to choose. Either you go along and pretend that a dead man is alive—which isn’t all that difficult, since everyone is doing it—or you insist, unreasonably, that you see what you see, in which case you will be branded a kook. Now imagine you’ve been parachuted into a country like this as a foreign corre