Timothy Frye (Marshall D. Shulman Professor) is quoted extensively in the New York Times’ Interpreter Newsletter (May 28, 2021) about “when strongmen are really weak” in connection with the Belarusian forced landing of a foreign airplane. Frye’s new book, Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia (Princeton University Press) appears to be tailor-made for today’s situation in Belarus:
When the president of Belarus ordered a fighter jet to force the landing of a foreign airliner so that his security services could arrest an opposition journalist onboard, it might have looked like a stunning show of power from a strongman leader who felt emboldened and unconstrained. But to experts who study modern authoritarianism, like Timothy Frye of Columbia University, the episode carried all the hallmarks of a dictator acting out of desperation and weakness.
“Most autocrats want to use repression as a last resort,” said Mr. Frye, who specializes in former Soviet Union countries like Belarus, where Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has ruled since 1994. If at all possible, he said, “They want to rely on other tools like personal popularity, strong economic performance, foreign policy success, propaganda.”