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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

INSIDE RUSSIA: War Victories Can't Save a Falling Empire




In his noted book, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," it seems that Edward Gibbon first noted that you can't save a failing empire even with a victorious war. Because if a lost war ends with a loss of territory, then a victorious war ends with the death or retirement of the successful commander, who invariably ends up being accused by an envious palace clique of a military coup.


One of the best examples of this is Belisarius, the great Roman commander who managed to free Italy from the Ostrogoths in 535 with only 6,000 soldiers. As a result, the emperor Justinian, spooked by Belisarius' successes, started setting limits on his commander and fired him, confiscating most of the fortunes he'd pillaged in Italy and Africa. The war in Italy continued for another 10 years and ended with its complete devastation.


Some of the problems of a crumbling empire are not alien to Russia, and within Russia's elite the question is asked more and more frequently: Will the hero of the Chechen war, Vladimir Putin, duplicate the fate of Belisarius? In other words, is the prime minister too strong for the weak Kremlin?


My acquaintances among Putin's Kremlin image-makers brighten up and announce that all the Kremlin's resources are directed toward supporting Putin and that no one in the Kremlin, besides him, is considered presidential material.


People who are close to the leadership of Fatherland-All Russia, however, tell a totally different story. They say that members of the "family" - namely Alexander Voloshin - and the prime minister are already squabbling over power. The prime minister brings his people into the ranks, "family" members bring theirs, and this has led the weak Kremlin to fear and loathe the strong Putin, who they say will likely be fired in December or January.


The folks over at Fatherland-All Russia demonstrate this in various analytical ways, saying the Kremlin considered three candidates for the prime ministerial post: Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (who was scrapped because of his close ties to Yevgeny Primakov); Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu (who was scrapped because of his low ratings); and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, the former powerful director of the organized crime division, who as a result of that job has the most exhaustive knowledge of the ill doings of the oligarchs. He is Putin's most likely successor, they say.


There is probably a grain of truth in all of this. In any case, it's not good for Fatherland-All Russia to make up fibs about poor relations between the Kremlin and Putin as that will just boost his ratings.


Firing Putin could turn into a catastrophe for the Kremlin: Forcing Russia into trusting another prime minister would require not the help of PR people, but a sorcerer with a love potion. Plus, naming the authoritarian and decisive Rushailo would take the collision of "strong prime minister" versus "weak Kremlin" to even sharper levels.


The members of the "family" who are in conflict with Putin over who to name as the head of the Federal Securities Commission - as an example - cannot be missing this point. And why not? The Belisarius syndrome is something that affects every falling empire. In Italy, they knew Belisarius's sacking would lead to the destruction of the country. But the little selfish considerations in the Italian court meant so much more.


Yulia Latynina writes for Segodnya.