The supreme Russian leader tightens his grip as paranoia reigns. He plays his potential heirs off against one another, refusing to appoint a successor, amassing ever more power and refusing to relinquish it, never acknowledging mortality or even age. No one really knows what the potentate in the Kremlin really wants, or plans, or believes, and that is just the way he wants it. This is Vladimir Putin, certainly. But also Joseph Stalin.

To understand Putin’s latest powerplay, go back to the predecessor whose image he has rehabilitated and whose techniques he has partly aped throughout his reign.

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