The New Yorker:

From the moment Vladimir Putin first took office, more than twenty years ago, he has returned time and again to the idea of the “vertical of power,” or a top-down apparatus of state authority that has become a trademark of his rule. This “vertical” was pitched as an antidote to the supposed disarray and fecklessness of the Russian state in the nineties; by contrast, Putin’s Russia would be run as a coherent, hierarchical machine, with him at the very top, and his will and decisions flowing downward from there, implemented by everyone from the country’s governors to its businesspeople, school principals, and spies.

The truth is that Putin’s supposed vertical has always been overhyped and riddled with inefficiencies—the Times Moscow correspondent Andrew Higgins skillfully documented its many “shockingly ramshackle” qualities last year—but, in the coronavirus pandemic, it has confronted an even starker challenge, one that can’t be overcome with bluster, oil wealth, or propaganda. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former adviser to Putin who fell out with him and left the Kremlin in 2011, told me that, for matters of both domestic and foreign consumption, the vertical was designed to make Putin look the man of decisive action, the “commander-in-chief who is always ahead and manages to outplay everyone.” But, as Pavlovsky added, “The virus played a different game.”

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