Putin Rebuffed

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Putin deserves much of the blame for that depressing reality. Political corruption has been a hallmark of the Putin era. A 2005 report by the Moscow-based think tank INDEM found that corruption surged between 2001 and 2005, while Putin was still president, growing to over $300 billion, a figure equal to a quarter of Russia’s economy. President Medvedev, who early on pledged to tackle corruption, has essentially conceded failure in that project. Earlier this year he revealed that that in 2010 alone some $35 billion in Russian government funds were stolen in state contracts. Putin has presided over much of that theft. Among other corrupt arrangements, he has appointed personal friends to run a bank called Rossiya, which then won generous state contracts from Russia’s nationalized oil company Gazprom. With Russia’s past and likely future president at the center of this official corruption, it is no surprise that Russians have little confidence in their public officials and institutions.

Until now, Putin has escaped the blame for this state of affairs. That was largely due to his self-professed role in providing the country with “stability” after the turmoil of the 1990s. For Russians scarred by memories of that decade, Putin’s slogan had a powerful resonance. But it is increasingly less compelling. One reason that Russia has enjoyed relative economic stability in recent years is its so-called Stability Fund, a reserve made up of cash stored during the height of the oil boom. The fund has allowed Russia to weather the economic instability that has shaken the debt-ridden nations of Europe and the United States. It may not last, however. The Russian government is expected to dramatically boost public spending in the coming months as Putin attempts’ to purchase public goodwill ahead of the presidential election in March. Higher spending would in turn make Russia even more dependent on oil prices to make up its budget, and thus even more vulnerable to a slump in oil prices. If the oil price should fall to $60 a barrel, as some analysts predict, Russia’s fossil fuel dependent economy will be hit just as hard as Europe and the US.

In the past, Putin has relied on public relations stunts to distract attention from such systemic concerns. He has been photographed tracking polar bears, driving a Formula One racecar, and roughing it shirtless in Siberia. But as the country’s problems mount, these displays of hyper-masculinity have failed to capture the public imagination. Last month, for instance, Putin was roundly booed while making an appearance at a martial arts contest. Just prior to that, a Putin spokesman was forced into the embarrassing admission that a diving expedition in which Putin was captured retrieving some Greek amphorae from the ocean floor was in fact staged. Few Russians were impressed.

Nor should they be. While justifying his power grabs as preventing Russia’s return to the political chaos the post-Soviet era, Putin has dragged the country further and further into the Soviet past. Press and individual freedoms have been curtailed, government and police power has expanded, and Russia is ever more increasingly alienated from the outside world. For a time, economic growth immunized Putin from paying the political price for this regression. But with dark times on the horizon, this weekend’s election may be a sign that Russians have begun to resent Putin’s strong hand.

The point was poignantly driven home by protestors who took to the streets of Moscow on Monday in the largest opposition demonstration in Russia years. They condemned this weekend’s vote and chanted, “Russia without Putin!” As the prospect of 12 more years of Putin’s rule looms, Russians may find the notion ever more appealing.

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  • StephenD

    Maybe "His Eminence" Obama can take a lesson from this. It may not be all it's cracked up to be…that lust for power. Wanting to be The Most Illustrious Potentate may make you tingle for a little while, it doesn't last with the folks. Even your "army" of union thugs and entitlement drones will eventually tire of you.

  • steve Grutzmacher

    I'd like to check James Carville's travel history for the last several months. This Russian thing has got his signature tactics all over it. He's made a grand living teaching despots to foment hate and class warfare as accepted tools in the pursuit of power. Hillary Clinton, Paul Bagala and Carville took political warfare to a new level in the early 90's to push there guy through the door.

    • CurmudgyOne

      Haha — if Carville was helping Putin run this campaign, I sure wouldn't want to be in Carville's shoes right now!

  • mrbean

    BEIJING — The Chinese committee that awarded this year’s Confucius Peace Prize minced no words in honoring the winner, Vladimir V. Putin, prime minister of Russia. It praised his decision to go to war in Chechnya in 1999. “His iron hand and toughness revealed in this war impressed the Russians a lot, and he was regarded to be capable of bringing safety and stability to Russia,” read an English version of the committee’s statement. “He became the antiterrorist No. 1 and the national hero.”

    Hmmmm…. Sure looks like Putin has China as an ally. The naive "Obambi" and "Charwoman" Hillary Clinton as Putin calls them are jokes to the Chinese leadership.

  • Stan Lee

    The leader of Russia's only independent polling place monitor, Lilya Shibanova, was arrested in days leading up to this recent parliamentary election. Her laptop computer was conficated. State-owned media also aired a vicious attack on her organization's integrity. A full-scale crackdown was launched against the Russian media,
    When opposition activists tried to stage a concert in Ekaterinburg, RU, the power went suddenly and mysteriously dead.
    Major opposition parties were excluded from registering for ballot places, refused access to airwaves, and no major debates were allowed between representatives of opposition forces and Putin's party, United Russia.
    Many Russian people are desperate, in the wake of Putin's intention to declare himself President for life.

  • Ben

    "Arab spring" lesson is not understood. Russians are seeking not the freedom,but the same "stability" which declares Putin.Emotional Russians seriously discuss Arab spring and financial non-stability of the West. Putin neglects "sacred" instrument of Russian power by creating the puppet figure of the president and then impudently throws him out,besides his games with the nationalists added confrontation between the "new" nationalists and traditional imperial nationalists panicking of Russia`s disintegration.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    OK it was a close election, maybe some of the Russian voters actually
    voted but guess who is going to disappear in the near future and count
    votes in Siberia, the vote counters do you suppose?………..William

  • Ben

    Russian political evolution is relativly slow so in an indefinite future Russia can get the Egypt`s scenario where Islamists will be changed for reds and browns. The time of this events will be defined as always by minority regions I think.

  • jewdog

    Vladimir Putrid and his KGB Kleptocracy wheeze into he top slot by a nose. Now to help Iran nuke the Jews, not surprising for a country that allied itself with the Nazis in the Molotov-Robbentrop Pact.
    One of these days we'll have a president that realizes that Russia is a degenerate enemy state and act accordingly.