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Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin’s “robust military man.” (© Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty images)

Russia has a cult of the leader in reverse. From the grinning traffic cop rapping his knuckles on the car window for a bribe to the anti-American minister embezzling the defence budget into the Cayman Islands—everything is blamed on Vladimir Putin.

Does this sullen fitness fanatic bear sole responsibility for Russia’s rotten state? No—the country would have been pillaged without him. Let’s imagine the Kremlin minus Putin, beginning with a Russia that never defaulted in 1998. That crash wiped…

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