After Vladimir Putin was in power he ushered in a new system that was called managed democracy. Russia became so skilled at this they began to export the system to its satellites such as Belarus and even, for a while Ukraine. The basic technique was derived from the Nazis of Germany. As Snyder explained, it involved “a mysterious candidate who used manufactured crises to assemble real power. This technique really started with Hitler in Nazi Germany when the Nazis who had been elected took advantage of the burning of the Reichstag to consolidate tyrannical power. Many thought they had started the fire to do that.
Ivan Ilyin like the fascist he was, used a similar technique. As Snyder explained it:
“Ilyin had performed the same trick: he called his redeemer a “democratic dictator” since he supposedly represented the people. Surkov’s pillars of Russian statehood were ‘centralization, personification, and idealization’: the state must be unified, its authority granted to an individual, and that individual glorified. Citing Ilyin, Surkov concluded that the Russian people should have as much freedom as they were ready to have. Of course, what he meant by “freedom” was the freedom of the individual to submerge himself in a collectivity that subjugates itself to a leader.”
Snyder would not call that freedom. He would call that “unfreedom,” because that is what it is.
Surkov, first on behalf of Yeltsin, later on behalf of Putin, helped deliver to the Russian people things they liked, such as an average increase in the Russian economy of 7% per annum and a successful war in Chechnya in the first 8 years of the 21st century. High prices for oil and gas provided the grease needed to keep the machine well-oiled. Some of those profits were even shared with the people of Russia not just oligarchs. Everybody was happy. To many Russians, a little loss of freedom, as they saw it, was worth what they got in exchange. All of this helped Putin secure support to remain in power. In the long run of course, it helped the country to slide into fascism with Putin at the controls.
The Russian election of 2012 appeared to be democratic, but was controlled by Putin. Like before he cheated and when he was caught, he even admitted it. After all he was now identified with the institution thanks to Surkov. Putin was able to convince enough people that more democracy than they had was not necessary.
This election proved important for many reasons. It taught Putin that there was more than one way to control “democracy.” As Snyder said,
“The fakery was repeated during the March 4, 2012 presidential election. Putin was accorded the majority that he needed to be named president after one round of balloting. This time most of the electoral manipulation was digital rather than manual. Tens of millions of cybervotes were added, diluting the vote cast by human beings, and giving Putin a fictional majority.”
Digital manipulation techniques featured prominently in subsequent Putin campaigns, first in Ukraine in 2014 and then in the UK and the United States in 2016. He or his team were becoming increasingly sophisticated in producing the electoral results that they wanted.
Timothy Snyder summed up Putin’s victories in Russia this way:
“Putin chose to regard the transient illusion of winning on the first ballot as more important than law, and his own hurt feelings as more important than the convictions of his fellow citizens. Putin casually accepted that there had been fraud; Medvedev helpfully added that all Russian elections had been fraudulent. By dismissing the principle of “one person, one vote” while insisting that elections would continue, Putin was disregarding the choice of citizens while expecting them to take part in future rituals of support. He thereby accepted Ilyin’s attitude to democracy, rejecting what Ilyin had called “blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance,” not only in deed but in word. A claim to power was staked: he who fakes wins.
If Putin came to the office of president in 2000 as a mysterious hero from the realm of fiction, he returned in 2012 as a the vengeful destroyer of the rule of law.”
As was required by any Russian political leaders, Putin always claimed to be against Nazism, since their experience of Nazism in the Second World War was so horrific, but in reality, he learned the techniques of the Nazis and used them well. Like the magic elixir with which he could turn democracy into fascism and the people would accept it. It happened in Germany, then Russia and he tried it again in Ukraine in 2014, UK in 2016, and the US in 2016.
What is astonishing is how close he came to achieving his goals in the mature democracies.