In reference to the succession struggle after Stalin’s death, Winston Churchill famously compared the opaqueness of Kremlin politics to a “bulldog fight under a rug” where “an outsider only hears the growling and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath it is obvious who has won.” Churchill’s poignant witticism has been Kremlinologists’ seer stone since. And for good reason. Kremlinology resembles alchemy of old—one part science, one part magic, and two parts faith. Given this concoction, it’s no wonder the interpretation of Kremlin politics rests on deciphering growls, barks, and snarls.
There’s a lot of growling coming out of Moscow of late, and the bones are steadily piling on the living room floor. The grandees in Putin’s inner circle are once again entwined in a dance macabre, and as they spin, their movements unleash centrifugal forces that reverberate throughout the power elite. The endgame may be as nebulous as the politics that march to it, but the bulldogs’ muffled snarls are getting louder, generating questions whether Putin can keep a firm grip their leashes.