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Leonid Bershidsky

Putin's Costume Drama in Ukraine

Putin likes to mimic the moves of his adversaries. Witness the similarities between the current protests in eastern Ukraine and the revolt that overthrew the previous government in Kiev.
Perception or reality? Photographer: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images
Perception or reality? Photographer: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

There's one ploy Russian President Vladimir Putin has mastered and perfected in his 14 years in power: If something appears to threaten your power, create its evil twin.

When radical young Russians started organizing against him, he responded by generously funding a cluster of pro-Kremlin youth movements. When the Russian blogosphere turned hostile, pro-Kremlin resources sprang up and hundreds of active Putin-friendly commentators emerged from nowhere. When, in 2011, the Moscow middle class protested a rigged parliamentary election by holding mass rallies, Putin's staff sought to organize bigger gatherings by ordering public sector workers out on the streets with preprinted signs. Recently, even the anti-corruption agenda of blogger Alexei Navalny, who has been banned from posting while under house arrest, has been replicated by the Putin-created All-Russian People's Front as mild criticism of the government auction system. Putin's fake civil society dwarfs the genuine one, because it is a more efficient social ladder.