Allow me to offer a glimpse into paranoia, Kremlin-style.
Earlier this year, almost a century after the Communists shot Russia's last czar, his wife, and their five children, the partial remains of every royal victim have at last been positively identified through DNA tests.
The timing of this revelation - just days before the May 7 inauguration of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev - is telling when one considers how:
••Armored army units were deployed in Moscow - officially there for Russia's planned May 9 World War II Victory Day. They arrived a few days early on the eve of the inauguration.
••Vladimir Putin, the new prime minister, appointed the top members of the former presidential staff to key cabinet positions and reshuffled the rest in an apparent attempt to even out their respective clout and maintain control over them.
As one leading Russian expert has put it, there is a 99 percent certainty that every member of the czar's immediate family was gunned down by a Bolshevik firing squad July 17, 1918, in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, in the basement of a house where they were being held. Now with the DNA identification of bone fragments of Crown Prince Alexei and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria, that certainty is at 100 percent.
What matters to the Kremlin is that this announcement means there can be no heirs to the Russian throne.
To be sure, the matter may seem irrelevant given the almost 90 years that have passed since the murder and the fact that Russia's monarchists are hardly a viable political group.
Here's the rub: They don't need to be.
Over the past eight years, the former Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had done everything in his power to return Russia to the commodity-driven economy it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before the frustrations of World War I brought about the czar's abdication and, a few months later, a Bolshevik coup.
Mr. Putin also has effectively restored an authoritarian rule by the Kremlin by doing away with federalism, an independent parliament, the main independent media, many nongovernmental organizations, and judiciary reform, subjugating the country to his personal rule. He has maintained that rule by balancing the individual clout of clans of apparatchiks from the secret police, general prosecutor's office, tax police, and other enforcement branches of the government.
It is no secret that Mr. Putin would not give up his almost absolute power and that he values Mr. Medvedev, an unassuming lawyer known for his long and loyal service to him, as a placeholder who would hand him back the presidency after a 4-year term. Mr. Putin could not run for president this year because the Russian constitution bans a third consecutive presidential term.
There was one problem. Mr. Medvedev is widely seen as a spineless figure. The more hawkish Kremlin insiders supported former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was once viewed as Mr. Putin's most likely successor.
As he was installing Mr. Medvedev in power following the rigged election, the last thing Mr. Putin needed was an overly ambitious group of former sycophants using a "royal" descendant as a figurehead in a coup, no matter how small the probability.
This Kremlin paranoia may seem farfetched if viewed from the United States, with its 200-plus years of democratic tradition.
But in Russia a revolt led by a pretend heir to the throne would have plenty of precedents and would fit right in with Russia's Byzantine politics and the paranoid mind-set of its leaders. Ironically, two such revolts were headed in the early 17th century by Dmity Medvedev's namesakes, Lzhedmitry I and Lzhedmitry II, or False Dmitry I and False Dmitry II.
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a staff writer for The Blade.
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