Putin’s tumultuous rise to power in Russia has been marked by revolutions, Russian nationalism, and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. If the principles set forth by Machiavelli can be believed however, Putin has created what could very well be an enduring Russian empire. Whereas most of the European Union, United States, and world views the Russian president as a nefarious power-grabber, he perfectly matches the mold of power ascension set forth by Machiavelli- a prince rising to power through the popular support of his people and a formidable army.
Machiavelli’s The Prince reading states that there are two means for achieving control- having it granted to a prince (either by money or popular support), or through wickedness. Putin, by employing military tactics and his political momentum, appears to fall quite cleanly into this second category. Much like Oliverotto da Fermo, the usurper detailed by Machiavelli in Chapter VIII of The Prince, Putin applied the same tactics of infiltrating another country under the pretense of honor and assistance. Both Fermo and Putin were able to bring in soldiers to the lands they wanted to take over, Fermo and the Crimea respectively. Then, after an appropriate amount of time and political discussion had passed, each leader overthrew the existing government and established their own. For Putin specifically, he received permission to send Russian forces into the Ukraine in order to defend the Russian citizens living there and to instill peace. Before long though, and conveniently, these troops were present when the Crimean referendum was held (NYTimes).
In his creation of this new Russian empire, Putin has perfectly adhered to three rules that Machiavelli claims critical to a long-lasting reign.
- “To know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity”– Putin inflicted most of the injuries necessary for his claim at the beginning of the Ukrainian revolution. Once the annexation was complete, he allowed several pro-Russian military groups to continue engaging in violent activities, but he continually claimed distance from such activities. As a leader, he has not shied from engaging in wrongs when it ultimately benefitted him, but not to the extent that he would alienate his own countrymen.
- “He can support himself with his own resources”– The Crimean peninsula is known for its rich supply of natural resources and ideal location for trade. By incorporating this land into the Russian Federation, President Putin now has one of the largest world populations (and consequently a massive army to draw from), abundant resources to supply it in a world that is growing energy-scarce, and a countryside that is incredibly harsh to those unfamiliar with it.
- “It is much safer to be feared than loved”– Noting the spontaneous encounters that have broken out across the Ukrainian/Russian countryside, the military struggle in Kiev, the crashing of Malaysian Airlines MH17, and the unsettling history of cruel Russian leaders (think Stalin, the massacre of the Romanovs, and Ivan the Terrible), the reign of Putin has a definite sense of fear (InfoPlease). The audacity and lack of challenge with which he overtook the peninsula, and the absence of concern he shows for the threats of the other world leaders shows a President who will do whatever he believes is necessary to gain and maintain power.
Not only have these ideals of Machiavelli been followed to ensure a successful “principality obtained by wickedness”, but there is even an element of a civil principality at play as well. Vladimir Putin has been popularly elected to the Presidency of Russia three times now (NYTimes). Therefore, even if he is feared, he is evidently not hated. The support of the people is behind him, and even more so as the Russians see him as bringing their country back to the center stage of world power. The rules of domination set forth by Machiavelli are still successful predictors of politics and empires today, clear in the contemporary annexation of the Crimean Peninsula into Prince Putin’s new Russian empire. If he is able to maintain the popular appeal and strength he has now, the rest of the world may continue to see Russian President well established for years to come.
Nicolo Machiavelli, “The Prince”, The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Prince, (2012) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1232/1232-h/1232-h.htm#link2HCH0008