The last czar: The genius of Vladimir Putin

It’s worth noting how much Putin has achieved: Like his hero, Peter the Great, he tamed the new nobility (of wealth) and consolidated the power of the state. He returned Russia to great-power status — largely through bluff. He steamrolled a one-sided new START agreement over American negotiators who desperately wanted a deal. His manipulation of Europe has given him virtually every pipeline agreement he wanted while sidelining NATO’s new members in the east and keeping Ukraine weak and disunited. He dismembered Georgia but paid no price for it. He has even achieved a grip over supplies for our troops in Afghanistan second only to the chokehold we granted Pakistan in a fit of strategic ineptitude.

If Putin has a weakness, it’s his disdain for economics. Russia relies on oil and gas exports to a potentially fatal degree. Yet that, too, stems from calculated policy: A diversified economy and consequent diffusion of wealth would make Russia far more difficult to control. Today’s relative handful of oligarchs fit perfectly into the mold of the old czarist nobility (if with fewer social graces): They spend ostentatiously, party abroad and remain politically docile. Putin would rather risk a monopoly economy than a proliferation of power bases…

Demographically, economically, developmentally, militarily, even educationally, Russia appears doomed to fierce decline. But one man of genius has brought his people a last, autumnal reprieve. Vladimir Putin is a dangerous man, but a splendid czar.