Russian expert Fiona Hill spoke to about 90 guests in the Student Union’s Garden Key meeting room Friday to discuss Vladimir Putin’s leadership in Russia.
In her speech “Putin’s Russia,” Hill said Putin, who is now in his third term of presidency, is likely to remain president of Russia for a very long time.
“What might happen beyond Putin? Most likely another Putin,” said Hill, a senior fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution and the director of the Center on the United States and Europe.
With an academic fixation on Putin for the past 15 years, Hill portrayed a well-researched psychological portrait of Putin and his style of leadership, emphasizing Putin’s mastery of intimidation and manipulation tactics as a key tool in his long-standing rule as Russia’s central political figure. Hill speculates that those skills result from his training as a former KGB operative, an occupation that likely explains why he approaches and refers to all situations as a mission, such as “the mission in Crimea” or “the mission in Sochi.”
Hill stressed the importance of understanding Putin as a way of understanding Russia, because Russia’s foreign policy under Putin’s rule is a mirror image of Putin himself, she said. She also emphasized Putin’s ceaseless focus on his public opinion ratings as a contributing factor to his firm grip on political power. She said Putin’s tireless efforts to keep his ratings high offers another glimpse into his end goals, which is to remain in power for as long as his health allows.
Darby Lewis, a junior history major, doesn’t doubt Hill’s prediction that Putin might remain in power for almost another decade, and she also agrees that Putin is likely to pass Russian political power on to someone he trusts who resembles him in ideology.
“I mean, he’s what, 63 now? So I don’t know if he’ll be around that long. But I mean he has a pretty firm grip, so he would have to really lose support, and he really seems to know how to manipulate public opinion,” Lewis said. “And if that’s all it takes to keep him in power, then yeah, I think he’ll stay in power until he’s ready to go.”
Hill believes there is a strong likelihood Putin will keep the Russian presidency until 2024, citing his clever habit of scapegoating as a method of avoiding blame and responsibility when things go awry as another strategy that has kept his ratings from falling too low.
To predict Russia’s next move and political motives, one must analyze Putin’s manner of thinking, a feat that might prove to be challenging because, Hill said, “Putin isn’t a chess player, he’s a black-belt judo” who works by getting people off balance and keeping them on edge.
Despite his political persona that makes him an easy target to demonize and parody, Hill suggests to instead seek to comprehend the thinking process behind his decisions as a way of dealing with him, especially if the current political system in Russia is replicated — assuming Putin applies his tactics of manipulation and intimidation to make the next Russian president one who holds his stamp of approval.
Gabby Baquero is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.