“The Putin Syndicate”

A conversation with:
Brian Whitmore
Senior Editor
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Moderated Discussion with:
Hannah Thoburn
Adjunct Fellow
Hudson Institute

Ulrich Speck
Senior Fellow
Transatlantic Academy

The Hon. John Herbst
Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center
Atlantic Council

One of the challenges facing policymakers as they seek to understand the Russian government’s actions and intentions since the rise of Vladimir Putin has been the nature of the government he has controlled (as either Prime Minister or President) since the turn of the century. Rather than looking to the Soviet Union or Russia's imperial past, one of the strongest metaphors for understanding Moscow's behavior today is that of a modern organized crime syndicate. One that happens to control one-sixth of the earth's land mass.

Brian Whitmore, creator of RFE/RL’s “The Power Vertical” blog and podcast and “Daily Vertical” video primer, argues that the metaphor fits in a number of fundamental ways. Putin's Kremlin seeks to corrupt its environment — both at home and abroad — in order to control it. It uses threats, intimidation, and extrajudicial violence to achieve its goals. It has teams of enforcers to harass, harm, and — if necessary — kill its enemies. It is run by a tight cabal of "made men" who oversee their own crews of capos and underbosses. The “made men” are led by a godfather-like figure whose main function is to settle disputes among them. The Putin Syndicate has its code and its rituals. It has a team of respectable consiglieres, who give it a facade of respectability. And its goal is simple: self-perpetuation and self-enrichment.