Why Putin is the world’s most powerful man

Fareed Zakaria: To understand Vladimir Putin, you have to understand Russia.

Originally appeared at CNN

In my latest documentary, we describe Russian President Vladimir Putin as the most powerful man in the world. But why? After all, the United States — and China, for that matter — are more powerful countries than Russia.

The power of a head of state is determined both by the country’s strength and the capacity he or she has to exercise that power, unilaterally, unconstrained by other institutions, parties and political forces. And combining those two metrics, it’s easy to see why Vladimir Putin rises to the top of list.

Putin has created what he calls a “vertical of power,” something unlike any we see in other great nations. As the Russian chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov — himself a harsh critic of Putin — has noted, the entire structure of Russian political power rests on one man. When the czar died, you knew the structure that would endure and the process by which his successor, his son, would be elevated. When the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party died, the Standing Committee and the Politburo would select his successor. But when Putin dies — I almost wrote if — what will happen? No one knows.

To understand Putin, you have to understand Russia. The last hundred years for that country have seen the fall of the monarchy, the collapse of democracy, the great depression, World War II with its tens of millions of Russians dead, Stalin’s totalitarian brutalities, the collapse of communism, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin’s years of chaos and corruption.

Then comes Vladimir Putin, who ushers in stability and, in popular perception, rising standards of living and increasing prominence and respect in the world. That respect is important.

Russians have immense national pride. Russia is the largest country on the planet — 48 times larger than Germany and encompassing 11 time zones that straddle Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Russia is also a rich country, containing some of the largest deposits of raw materials, from oil and natural gas to nickel and aluminum. Culturally, it has often thought of itself as the third Rome, preserving Christianity even as Rome and Byzantium fell to the Barbarians.

Putin understands Russia. But he also understands the world. He is not foolish enough to make a frontal assault on America or Europe. Instead, he knows how to use power asymmetrically, with cyber tools and disinformation.

He also understands the vulnerabilities of free societies — their internal divisions and discord, and their gaping openness. He understands the fragility of institutions like the European Union and ideas like integration and diversity.

In other words, Vladimir Putin understands us very well. But all that begs an important question: Do we — and does Donald Trump — really understand him?

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Tim Webb
Tim Webb
August 16, 2017

We do understand him.
He is the embodiment of the Christian statesman; honest, intelligent, caring, moral, and an everlasting credit to the great nation of Russia which brought him forth.
Would that every despicable, lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering politician sought to emulate him.
This man will go down in history as the greatest force for good the world has seen in many a long year.

John Baker
John Baker
Reply to  Tim Webb
August 16, 2017

Tim, no better words could be used to describe a man much loved by many, desperate for a leader who stands for truth, justice and integrity. For many he has become their savior (people of Syria)

Reply to  John Baker
August 16, 2017

Actually, if I may add … Putin, as one man, actually opened and continues opening the hearts and minds of millions all over the world. Bringing awakening and with it, a return of common sense, clear thinking and integrity and the moral courage to stand up for what is right and just. I hope RussiaFeed doesn’t mind that I saved the picture of Putin for my Vladimir Vladimirovich Collection and I say thank you! I must add an article which appeared in 2014 about dear Putin and which I have never forgotten and I am sure many others will enjoy… Read more »

August 16, 2017

“Instead, he knows how to use power asymmetrically, with cyber tools and disinformation” … ??? Mr. Fareed Zakaria here you go again …. Using his power asymmetrically– yes, you got that part right– but excuse me sir, if indeed you said, “with cyber tools and disinformation” ??? — Then sir, you were actually speaking plain BS and without a doubt, were aware that you were blathering utter balderdash and phony baloney. Furthermore, it was clear that this statement of yours, was nothing but a crude backhand swipe and small minded attempt to insult a man of Putin’s stature– which you… Read more »

Reply to  Nofearorfavor
August 17, 2017

with you all the way……… congrats, this politician has ” all in the right place ” and very few can achieve it……….. in some ways I place him besides Fidel lol he suffered 604 assassination attempts, but because his people admired him so much, no enemy or friend could stab him in the back. Long Live Putin

stephen koludrovic
stephen koludrovic
August 17, 2017

A Brilliant statesman, a man for all seasons. He has pulled Russia from the abyss to where it now is. The Russians are proud to have such a man.

LAVROV: Russia will not support ideas aiming to suffocate North Korea economically

Have a look at Moscow’s Kremlin some 300 years ago (PHOTOS)