The Vladimir Putin school of leadership

tags: Putin

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View contributor. He is a Berlin-based writer, author of three novels and two nonfiction books.

The leaders of some of the biggest developing nations ― China, India, Turkey, South Africa ― are increasingly acting like Russian President Vladimir Putin. It may be that democracy as the West understands it will have to compete with a new strain of authoritarianism, much as it did with communism in Soviet times.

“I feel our personalities are quite similar,” China’s Xi Jinping told Putin last year. He has since been likened to the Russian leader for exacting selective justice against his political rivals and making a show of personally eradicating corruption rather than building institutions to counteract it. Putin has famously focused his anti-corruption efforts on enemies such as opposition leader Alexei Navalny, rather than on his billionaire friends who are so improbably good at winning government contracts.

The historian William Dalrymple has publicly worried that India’s Narendra Modi could become a sort of “Indian Putin.” Modi, who put pressure on human rights activists and opposition journalists while he ran the state of Gujarat, soon reinforced the comparison by having books containing an extreme nationalist version of history sent to the state’s schoolchildren ― a riff on Putin’s vision of a unified, definitive history textbook for Russia.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown increasingly Putinesque in his second decade as Turkey’s leader. He has crushed major street protests by the liberal and leftist opposition, and all branches of power in Turkey are now under his control as he prepares to become the country’s most powerful president since founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Like Putin, Erdogan distrusts social networks, believes his opponents are traitors and invokes external threats to reinforce his popularity at home. 

At least one commentator has described South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Putin as “soul brothers.” They are both dangerous to cross, and they have a common background: Putin is a former KGB intelligence officer and Zuma ran the African National Congress’ intelligence operation in exile...

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