In a column for MSNBC, a historian and expert on autocratic regimes pointed out that Vladimir Putin appears to be headed down a well-worn path that other dictators have followed that led to their own destruction.
According to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor at New York University, Putin's drive into Ukraine could be the point where his rule starts to collapse as he appears to exhibit more paranoia, has been self-isolating and apparently is not listening to close advisors.
Using a quote from Italian fascist Benito Mussolini (“I follow my instincts, and I am never wrong") as a springboard, Ben-Ghiat suggested that Mussolini exposed his fatal weakness and that Putin is mirroring the way that the Italian fascist ultimately failed.
Writing that Putin "... is motivated by a desire to secure his place in history as the leader who revived a version of the Soviet empire," the historian added, "It could backfire on him in multiple ways."
"After 22 years in power, Putin's governance style and structures resemble those that have led past autocrats to make bad decisions. The recent photographs of him at enormous tables, absurdly distant not just from foreign heads of state but from members of his own security council, suggest a state of isolation common among leaders who have exercised too much power for too long," she wrote before adding, "All strongmen build "inner sanctums" to manage day-to-day governance. Composed of flatterers, family members and cronies, all of them chosen for their loyalty rather than their expertise, they shield him from any unpleasant counsel — and share handsomely in the profits from his thievery."
According to Ben-Ghiat, Putin has retreated into a world of flattery where no dissenting opinions are allowed which means he has to be infallible in his decisions or they will come back to haunt him.
"Over time, exerting this kind of power can lead an autocrat to believe his own propaganda and act on his worst impulses, leading not just to the destruction of his foreign enemies, but to destabilizing situations at home that can jeopardize his rule," she wrote while pointing at anti-war protests that have broken out on the streets of Moscow.
"The present international crisis reflects Putin's private preoccupations — what haunts him, as well as what he takes for granted due to his arrogance," she explained. "At the same time, Putin suffers from fantasies of grandeur. He obtained a nationalist high, and soaring approval ratings, following his 2014 annexation of Crimea. Perhaps he believes he can repeat the experience."
According to the historian, the Russia of 2014 is long gone and Putin may not realize it.
"A rogue attack against Ukraine will likely only bring more disillusionment and further expose the president's total lack of regard for his own people," she suggested before adding, "With typical strongman hubris, Putin has clearly underestimated the willingness of Ukrainians to fight against him. The war will create numerous Russian casualties, which even reported mobile crematoria, which could hide evidence of Russian dead, won't be able to mask."
You can read her whole piece here.
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