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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Fear That Lurks in Kremlin Hearts

One of the curious patterns perceptible in human history is that of rulers and plots: The more a ruler fears conspiracies against him, the more likely he is to die as a result of one.

Among the emperors of Russia, there were two obvious paranoiacs: Peter III and Paul I. One was smothered with a pillow, while the other had his skull shattered by a snuff box. And yet, at the beginning of the reign of each of these tsars there was no hint of plotting, and everything was just grand.

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Where am I going with this?

President Vladimir Putin enjoys the love of his people. His poll ratings are high, the product of Russia's economic good fortune, which itself is due to three factors: the high price of oil, the 1998 devaluation of the ruble and the restructuring of the industrial base.

None of these factors depends on Putin, but all of them except the price of oil are irreversible. Russia under Putin is simply fated to live better than it did in 1996, and Putin's ratings are, consequently, fated to be higher than Yeltsin's.

In this rosy context, the regime conducts itself as though its fate were hanging by a thread.

Mikhail Kasyanov organizes a convention of the Democratic Party. This was a guy you could hardly tell apart from Putin. Why on earth did the regime have to turn this committed conformist -- who after his removal as prime minister asked by way of a pension to be made Speaker of the Federation Council, mayor of Moscow or, come to that, at least chairman of the Central Bank -- into an opposition figure? But of course, at Kasyanov's convention the Federal Security Service turns up in such numbers you'd think it wasn't Kasyanov coming to town, but Shamil Basayev, and the Democratic Party suddenly becomes subject to an Attack of the Clones.

Garry Kasparov goes to Omsk. Now Kasparov is radical-minded, but he does not yet constitute an opposition: For the time being, he's just a single opposition figure. But immediately, all the halls in Omsk turn out to be closed -- for quarantine, disinfection, cleaning, annual inspection and so on.

And what about the NGO law? And the campaign against human rights activists? And the virtual prohibition against even toothless parliamentary investigations?

The Kremlin has absolutely no reason to worry. The popular consensus for Putin couldn't be more complete. The businessmen are quiet. The State Duma might just pass a resolution tomorrow that Putin should govern another 101 years.

But the regime runs around in a panic unmatched since handwriting appeared on the wall at Belshazzar's feast. Why?

People have come to power who do not know how to run either a business or a government. They have one professional skill: the elimination of enemies. If there are no enemies, then some have to be created. Then these people can show their beloved president that only his friends are protecting him from these enemies -- whose property usually goes, in the course of the defense, to the friends.

And if these friends narrow Putin's social base in the process of destroying the enemies, that's not a minus but a plus. At the beginning of Putin's reign, the West, business and the people supported him. For his friends, it would be ideal if only they themselves supported him -- and let the West, business and the people be against him.

But the more the regime fears enemies, the more enemies it makes for itself. The presidents of the United States don't suffer from paranoid delusions about their opposition -- and what happens? In all of American history, there has never been a case of a retired president being sent to jail or, God forbid, being shot as an enemy of democracy.

Whereas such dictators as the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos, Haiti's Francois Duvalier and Nicaragua's Antonio Samosa could not tolerate opposition, and what happened? They were lucky not to get a snuff box upside the head.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.