. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How Politicians Evolve Into Early Lame Ducks

Well, there's nothing like a whirlwind one-day tour by a Kremlin power-monger to liven up sleepy St. Petersburg.


Yes, President Yeltsin's personal gatekeeper Anatoly Chubais visited last week to talk tough and throw some money around. And Governor Yakovlev, not so long ago a brash, confident upstart in power politics, could be seen standing obediently at Chubais' side, as if poised to catch any loose change that might suddenly fall out of the chief of staff's pocket.


After agitating for months for the city to receive long-promised federal funds, Yakovlev has finally wrung a promise from Chubais -- which doesn't pay the bills, of course, but it's a start -- to fund completion of two new metro stations. No word yet on funding to keep the city's theaters, museums and courts open, but we must look at the bright side: at least, with metro funding, we will be able to get quickly and efficiently to the closed venues all over town.


To be fair, it is true that anyone given the task of governing this fine, yet ungovernable city is already in an unenviable position, especially with promises for federal funding being forever dangled and snatched away like a yo-yo. But all the same, Governor Yakovlev's transformation since his election victory is still remarkable: After a mere five months in office, he has somehow managed to acquire the glazed look and ineffectual manner of a lifelong politician.


Especially in the last two decades or so, a very particular and seemingly irreversible affliction has descended on every man holding power for a significant period of time in Russia. Beginning with Brezhnev, who was about as coherent as a lump of soft butter in the last years of his rule; through Gorbachev, who to this day seems baffled by his native land; to Yeltsin, need we say more; to Yakovlev's own predecessor, Anatoly Sobchak, who went from being a firm, courageous symbol of the democratic struggle to a marginal, name-dropping fat cat out of touch with his constituency, there seems to be an alarming trend for Russian politicians to move inexorably away from relative strength and firmness of character to a kind of blas? inactivity and irrelevance.


Russian leaders are not the only ones subject to this phenomenon, of course, but the symptoms here do seem to be remarkably consistent -- and in the case of Governor Yakovlev, they have set in earlier than ever. What can be done? The only thing that really seems to get all the politicians going is an election, so perhaps terms should be shortened to fit officials' approximate attention spans for their offices: How about six-month terms for mayors, governors and the president? After all, the country's politicians have already shown a knack for the art of non-stop campaigning, especially among that jostling inner circle of presidential hopefuls in the Kremlin.