Vladimir Putin has been a good and in fact the best leader for Russia. That said it is worth noting that having served from 2000 to 2008, his re-election has cast a ray of hope on the people of Russia. One should not forget the events of the 1990s. Those in doubt are those who are very forgetful of what transpired during these times or are simply ignorant. One that comes to mind is the 1998 crisis when the dollar skyrocketed to 20 Rubles, up from 6 in just below a month. Think of the people who had debts in dollar currency and you realize that his presidency impacted on all. The opposition activists will most likely argue that in his new term, he has nothing to do. In fact, they will point out that the positive changes have been a result of the good oil prices, humanitarian helps from the west and of course the soviet legacy. They should remember how the average salary of $100 made basic necessities a luxury not to mention the total absence of credit cards, loans, super markets and o host of other consumer infrastructure.
Some other positive changes that can be attributed to Putin’s exemplary leadership include the prospering Russian style of running businesses of the 1990s. Gone was the jealousy for the West and Americas as Russia rose to be able to cater for its citizens ICT needs. It is worth noting though that Russia has now grown to an ordinary European country with an average cost of living. A lot of problems still haunt this growing nation but it’s no longer the impoverished nation it was where pension stood at an average of $20. IMF can no longer be the boss here. Putin has thus brought order and development to this country as seen in the major changes highlighted. The Russians, after 18 years of capitalism may not regard him as their preferred strongman, but his record is impressive.
Putin has already proven the critics having had an easy win. Of course the 12 years in power work for his credibility. With him, the country has grown every single year with him at the forefront. This term will however be harder considering he has lost a lot of support from his biggest supporters, the middleclass. Hoping they it was not just political posturing, he has been making a lot of noises about major political reforms and there is belief that it will come to pass with Putin.
He thrives on the fact that the opposition is greatly fractured. It ranges from radical leftists and the die hard right wing men. So far, the communist party remains the second largest party. There remains a significant nostalgia or hung over to the past soviet era but there is reason to belief there is little appetite to go back there. (Kryshtanovskaya, Ol’ga and White, Stephen 296)
Speaking about democracy in Russia, it can be said that it is a complex country. After the Union collapsed, the reforms brought forth by Gorbachev were just too extreme for a transitioning nation. The speed with which they were instituted using his Perestroika plans became a major detriment to both country and economic development.This was followed by a dark period in the economic shock therapy that followed. People are becoming vocal; they are now demanding more representation in government. It has not grown into a full democracy and for reforms to work, they have to be implemented gradually considering the vastness and how complex Russia is. With Putin at the helm and going by his track record of reforming, there is common belief that he will deliver his promises.
Looking at his leadership style, there is one thing all analysts agree on, he has been a principal and that comes with some ruthless pragmatism to a very large array of problems. They include gas and separatist wars, a collapsing ruble and rebellious oligarchs. Six months after he was elected, the man faced a major problem; he needed a powerful ideology, one that was not covered in his skeptical and army mind. It was an ideology that would be able to consolidate Russia around his decree. One very clear strategy he has undertaken is mobilizing the existing conservative elements in society. This has been done in recent months as seen by the reviving of Cossack Militias. (Evangelista, Matthew 79.)
Officials in all regions continue to scramble to provide patriotism education programs as Slavophile debate clubs continue to pop up in all major cities under the motto- give us our national Idea (Herspring Dale 141). As mentioned by his secretary and clos aide Dmitri S. Peskov, the leader is definitely thinking of ideology. According to him, Ideology and patriotism is very important. He goes on to add that if there exists no trust and dedication from people, then do not expect anything positive to come out of your leadership. (Brown, Archie & Shevt%uFE20s%uFE21ova, Fedorovna 31)
Another clear indication of his changing leadership style is the fact that ideas have also changed among the ruling class as well. Talks about a post-democracy era have taken center stage replacing President Dmitri’s pro-western and modernizing policy. The existing intellectual leaders continue to challenge the premise which has been in the country for 20 years. They challenge that Russia should strive to emulate the successful and liberal west. The Western values are spoken of with contempt.
As has been the norm, world scholars every year will have a gathering, the Valdai Discussion Club. Here, they dine and pepper Mr. Putin with various questions. This goes on for hours. This year, in particular, just a few questions arose about human rights and democracy. This he attributes to the fact that the topics are no longer of interest. He insists that all leaders and legislators alike have gotten sick of this agenda. The anti-western argument has received a major boost from last year’s events. The euro zones attraction and role as economic model was stripped off by the economic crisis (Bochkarev, Danila 243). Uprisings from the Arabs leave the US and Russia divided by an intellectual rift. Even Russia’s Orthodox Church has plated a bug role by casting the west as a region that unleashes a dangerous turbulence to the whole world (Wegren Stephen & Herspring, Dale. 91) Mr. Peskov further explains that President Putin has a good understanding that there exist no general/common Western values and he also views all this as a period which will record a severe historic crisis.
On cultures, he views that there has been a massive downfall of cultures in Europe with lesser slumps in the US and South America. It exists in Africa as well as Europe by a big magnitude and these contradictions will tear them apart. This can be attributed to the fact that there exist no harmony in free coexistence of our different cultures, hence harmony is not assured. Looking at the disasters brought about by the wave of revolutions in the Gulf, Middle East, Yemen and Maghreb, there is evidence of this being a major cause.
Russia however has no plans of drifting from the larger west regarding its foreign policy. As a matter of fact, it seeks bilateral kind of relationships. It will, however no longer tolerate any outside interference especially regarding its domestic affairs. This message is clear-cut; although it will be difficult to ascertain what solid changes it may bring forth in a nation whose upper business and political figures own homes in Western Europe in addition to sending their children for studies there. During a discussion in September on “nationalizing the elite,” a Kremlin-connected politician recommended barring officers from owning any kind of property overseas (Baker, Peter & Glasser, Susan 162). He explained that it makes them obligated to foreign rules and could thus lead them to eventually betray Russia. Following this, the proposal encountered very open resistance; this open opposition included Mr. Medvedev. As at now, it is in limbo. Mr. Putin himself had mixed feeling regarding this issue but had to come to a final decision. He stated that is one was a state officer at any level and had invested outside; it would be easy for them to be influenced from the outside. This would thus not be in the interest of the state in general. The president further insisted that these individuals were not firm in protecting the states interest. He also compromised by stating that he was aware of how affordable life could be outside, for example, a flat was way cheaper in Bulgaria than in Moscow. He thus advised that this was a major discussion.
One of the professionals who attended the last Valdai Discussion Club, Mr.Alexander Rahr, said he left the meeting with the sense that even President Putin has clearly benefited in the political scene by implementing a more conservative language, there is definitely something deeper taking place (Sergi, Bruno 221). He felt that Mr. Putin was continually preparing the Russians more and more for the acceptance that the nation is not owned by the West, does not belong to their culture anymore, or in general to Europe the way the 1990s discussions had put it. These were the sentiments from Mr. Rahr, who is also the author of Putin’s Biography. Publicly, the president has voiced his search for more patriotic ideas. This is why in September he had launched the national drive for patriotic education. He argued that the existing conflict over the people’s cultural identities, moral and spiritual values accompanied by moral codes had now created the battlefield between Russia and its rivals. He explains that it is not just a phobia, but it is happening right in front of their eyes.
In an article on the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, it is stated that this is one of the major forms of competitive wars that many nations encounter (White, Stephen 397). Just like it is in the battle for mineral resources, this is a big war. The alteration of historic, national and moral awareness continually has now resulted to a weak state, downfall and eventual loss of sovereignty. Recently, that theme was reenacted during the 400th anniversary to celebrate the movement that abolished the Polish-Lithuanian occupation that ended what the Russians commonly refer to as the time of troubles.
This message looked tailor-made for these suspicious times, when nonprofit organizations that are funded from outside Russia were now being branded as “foreign agents” and the legal description of treason had recently been widened to comprise providing nay kind of assistance to all international organizations (Eudin, Xenia & Fisher, Henry 43). With direct orders from the capital, all of Russia’s leaders are now tasked with coming up with patriotic programs of their own. As patriotism takes center stage, they have no choice but to work towards ideologies that will support the president’s quest. All ministries are scrambling to be able to make it.
The dean at the Higher School of Economics, Mr. Sergei Kraganov in Moscow suggests that the nation will spend many years in the search for a uniting set of ideas during Putin’s leadership. He adds that the president is an extremely good operational thinker apart from being practical. He suggests that at times he should offer a vision and that the president is clearly struggling to rebuild the nation’s ties with its history considering they had been long broken. He noted that the sole complication with this project is that all of Russia’s moments of unity and glory have been characterized but the involvement of an invading force.
To look at his major policies, it is in order to revisit how the Russians receive his policies in general. These views will be in regards to his policies of fairness and functional democracy which have been some of the major changes. Looking at the backdrop of a poor inefficient Yeltsin regime, his policies managed to give the people what they looked for in a leader; reflection, purposefulness, will and commitment. This managed to shape their hopes in him less by the merits of his democratic background. Of utmost importance was the fact that Russians had this common belief that Putin was capable of eventually setting Russia economically, politically and socially on the path to normalcy. (Kotz, David & Weir, Fred 201)
Owing to the failures of the 1990s, a noteworthy 72% of the population had the belief that the country was “just a little” or “not at all” normal. The normal society as one that adhered to fairness principles which Yeltsin failed to enforce. In a 2004 poll, Russians defined a normal society as one with these qualities; 74% voted that it is one where government officers treat normal people fairly, another, 72% thought its characterized by a situation where when anything goes wrong regarding public welfare service provision will help, the rest agreed if it is safe to walk the streets with no fear of crime - 85%, Another 85% thought it would be fair if there were better opportunities for you or your children to better their lives. (Rosenberg, Aaron 134)
As seen, in discussing the idea of the normal society, similar issues arise as when one discusses a democratic society. They are; decreased crime, fairness and government taking responsibility, opportunities for individuals, reliable welfare services especially in times of emergency. As at 2004, there was common belief among the majority that Putin had managed to address these burning issues. 57% of them agreed that even if it was not a normal society at that time, they were headed towards this direction as a result of good leadership. The projected they would be there in ten years. It is this confidence in their leader that demonstrates how much they had belief in his policies to transform the nation to a country more like other democracies in the world. The sampled statistics showed that they believed that he was leading them away from democratic consolidation and to a new political direction.
For the citizens and especially the ordinary ones, a thriving and functional democracy would be tasked with defending and providing fair surroundings for its people with regards to timely payment of pensions and wages, an increase in pay for determined work, and deliberation for the deprived and the general living standards in addition to preventing lawbreakers from unfairly manipulating the economy for their selfish needs. All political leaderships that preceded Putin had secured not any of the above conditions, and thus leaving many Russians unable to take advantage of the life opportunities which a just and organized democracy possibly presented.
In determining the competency of a leader, issues of internal security are paramount. Russia has gone through a phase which can only be referred to as an invisible or silent Civil war. Looking at its history, the Beslan siege in 2004 of a local school comes to mind. This I the most shocking story of pure insecurity. On the first day of school on 1st September, a gang of masked men stormed the elementary school and rounded up hundreds of students and teachers in to the indoor basketball gym. They were to remain locked up in the hot summer heat for three days, a feat which saw a number of children die from dehydration. This was to be followed by even more deaths as a series of home made explosives detonated leading to a massive fire that killed hundreds of children and staff. A makeshift memorial stands at the site with photographs of over 300 victims.
As fate would have it, this was not a unique case. Only two years before this, a play in Moscow had been interrupted by gunmen and the entire audience was taken hostage. As authorities tried to perform a rescue, 170 people died in what ensued. 2003 and 20004 was characterized by a series of suicide bombs within and in the outskirts if Moscow. Just days before the Beslan incident; two passenger trains had been brought down by daring suicide bombers. The Nevsky express, the high speed locomotive that connects St, Petersburg and Russia was derailed by a bomb leading to close to 30 deaths. Noteworthy, the train had earlier in 2001 been derailed but fortunately no deaths were reported. All this is a chilling fact of the insecurity I the North Caucasus only. The tally is incomplete as it does not include the very high level of violence in this region.
The Russian government appears to have a few creative plans on how to deal with the disorder in this region (Szászdi, Lajos 90). It had grown into the epicenter of a wave of repetitive political violence in Russia. No positive result has been posted as the government tries to bring the conflict into some sort of a common resolution. With the violence spreading widely like a bush fire, Moscow responded by relying on the playing rules of the imperial Russia. This was done by buying off provincial administrators while deploying the country’s repressive forces to try and curb and arrest suspected adversaries Sixsmith, Martin 52). But this begs a question, what would happen when raw force and pay offs could no longer contain the violence?
In particular when Putin became president in his first term in 2000, the government began cleaning its image as the impressive guardian of order. The blazing politics of the north Caucasus coupled with the leakage violence to the north of the Kuban and Terek rivers threatened to this new reputation as they acted as the barriers between the Central Region and the Southern Republics. This threatened to erode the legitimacy of government. (German, Tracey 87)
If Kremlin could not work out a workable plan, the existing chauvinistic nationalist groups could spew their rhetoric of demonizing the country’s non-Christian society thus gain traction in the State’s politics. They have already been involved in a number of mob attacks on Muslims migrants from central Asia and the Caucasus as well. With Muslims making up close to 15% of the population, the possibility of street violence seemed inevitable considering around 2 million live in Moscow.
Any kind of up surging violence was threatening to fuel the country’s drift from democracy. It simply provided fodder for legislators who take advantage and with promises to revenge for the people by hammering the messy South. Just as Putin had acted in the second Chechen wars, he may have the government raise public safety so as to justify further the constraint of civil liberty and having all power concentrated within the Kremlin. Increased authoritarianism and increased nationalism would be the result of both outcomes. (Holmes 30)
The cause of the first Chechen war was not simply about the Chechens desire to rise and kill their neighbors because of past differences. President Yeltsin justifiable move to stop the Chechen withdrawal with military force was the real reason why it erupted in 2004. The results were bloody and ghastly. The president had to call a ceasefire giving Chechnya minimal independence. Three more years of chaos were to take place. In 1999, the Beslan mastermind, Basayev who was at the time one the young and more Islamist-inspired war field commander, led a major raid into the neighboring Dagestan (Tucker, Spencer & Roberts, Priscilla 5). He aimed at fomenting a rebellion against Dagestan local establishments loyal to Moscow.
Putin, who was at this time the prime minister, launched the second Chechnya war in response. This time he had a larger and better-trained force. It was clear that the Kremlins motives had changed in line with the changes of the Chechen motives. Putin’s interest was stamping out terrorism as opposed to preventing secession. The terrorism had been directed at politicians and security officers allied to Moscow. The Chechens killed died but also their fatalities were even more.
At the end of it all, the country’s conquest of this region tells a story of a modern state that is pulled into a series of local struggles. It tells of a nation that has been driven by ideas of manifest destiny. It is a story of a leader picking up the pieces and striving towards citizen’s safety as opposed to fighting of egos and chauvinistic ideas. (Marshall T. Poe 72)
There are elements of Putin’s leadership that have come to close scrutiny. Well this can be accepted of a former KGB and a man who has been at the helm for a long time. His ego ad the way he dives his policies home are a matter of discussion. There are those who will agree that such an ego and authoritative leadership style is what works for Russia. On paper, he is doing well and his ego is tantamount to this. During the last Valdai Discussion Club in the fall, the leader made it clear he had no apologies for his most recent move to regain the presidency from his accomplice, Mr. Dmitri, and that fact that he will continue to dominate Russia’s dynasty for the next 12 years or so. “I do not need to prove anything to anyone,” he had declared in response to one question.
This kind of defiance is what reflects to two vital elements of the leader’s persona: His plan to fashion the Nation’s destiny in a slow and methodical decision making stretched over a long period of time; and his solid conviction and belief that his destiny is entwined with that of Russia. This is the element that makes his ego come out, probably in a bid to protect his destiny, he ends up behind the egoistic person he is. This is a good thing because it works for the people that he has their personal interest ta heart. He has in previous addresses made repeated references to his Russian Hero, Pyotr Stolypin (Medvedev, Roj &Prof. Shriver, George 25). This was the reformist prime minister who served under the last of the Czar era, Nicholas II. Mr. Pyotr had also been a firm supporter of well measured and practical evolutionary change. Putin also fondly spoke of Franklin D. Roosevelt, his American model, who had managed to brush aside the unwritten, silent two term presidential maximum limit that guides the U.S. leadership up to this time. At one point he was asked to comment on his admiration for this two leaders who never made it to see their projects accomplished to which he interjected that there was no need to go planning his funeral just yet. This is a clear indication that the man picture the next phase of Russia’s history taking a forward step without him. (Chebavnkova, Elena)
He continues to mask his ego under a strong presidency, and remains a mysterious and very inaccessible man (Rammerstorfer, Karin 98). Al this can be attributed to the fact that the man has invested large sums to hide his real identity hence this is not by accident. Large discrepancies arise in the official narrative of the president-doe not come as a surprise for a man who’s KGB days called for him to mask his real self and sometimes his whole existence. Mystery shrouds his role in the East German service in Dresden as a KGB operative as well as his activities while he was St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor.
He was widely under estimated prior to his arrival in Moscow in 1996 and seen as lacking a firm ideology or identity. To many, he was quiet and reserved and could easily vanish in a crowd of two. He thrived on letting people make up their versions of who he was with little concern on what they came up with. This is the kind of self-esteem that has seen him grow in to respected figure, his ego not withstanding. He remains to serve in line with history, his policies and ideas are based on historical policies of governance and this has worked pretty well for him. He continues to uphold the development policies of Stolypin, his role model who is a historical figure who validates his policies while he was prime minister and his major programs for the development of the nation. Worth noting is that Stolypin is very unpopular with the Russians as polls have shown. (Riasanovsky, Nicholas)
Comparisons have been drawn between Putin and the leaders of the Czar era. This is important in telling whether there have been notable changes in the genera leadership of Russia. Owing to how he implements and runs the kremlin, Putin is more inclined to Czar Leadership style than as a president albeit by choice. For a man who has been at the held and served successfully as a prime minister, he knows how to discern between the two. Similar to the previous Czars, he has put a firm grip on power while demonstrating that he is very capable of bringing down his dissenters very easily. His popularity has grown from his thirst for power and glory that has led to an iron leadership which has been furnished by decades of corruption. All this are common to the Soviet era showing that there exist similarities between him and his predecessors. Even with the major policy changes such as fairness and democracy, a cloud of the past hangs over his leadership. He is an evolved Czar.
The president’s nostalgia for the former Soviet dynasty is evident in the way he decided to replace the national anthem from the one Yeltsin favored to the one that was used in the Soviet regime. Critics came forward as usual but the larger majority accepted it as a bold and loyal move. To the people, this was a way of reminding them of a powerful era for their country in addition to being familiar to all. (Easter, Gerald 194)
Just like in the Czar era, Putin has put back the country in its former glory of exerting influence in the larger region in terms of weapon sales. In a trip to Indonesia, the KGB man closed on a dal that saw a consignment of arms sent to the nation. He continues to make it no secret that Russia strives to beat the U.S as the world largest producer of arms.sa at now, Russia arms technology is very advanced which can be credited to the country’s zeal to boost weapon sales all over the world.
More evidence that the world renowned leader is truly a czar can be highlighted in the way he deals with his foes. The late journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was very critical of Putini and the Kremlin at large with particular interest on the war in Chechnya was assassinated. Her death was termed as a contract kill. Just like in the soviet era, it is eliminate the enemy and move on all over again. He casts a barricade of fear around him. Another critic who faced the same fate is Alexander Litvinenko. The critic was poisoned to death in a way thaw a so sophisticated many have linked it to the KGB. No one is spared as even billionaire Boris Berezovsky has exiled himself in England. Clearly, the message is if you step in his path, he has more than one way of dealing with you.
If all this is anything to go by, Putin is definitely a modern times czar. He has managed an iron grasp on the power of the Kremlin which he is always so willing to use to get what he desires, much like all czars before him. He continues to take advantage of the nostalgia of the Soviet Unions immense power and world influence to reaffirm and extend the nations influence and power I the region. There is no stopping a man whose leadership is shrouded in history and run on the country’s history. His is a nation that needs to rebuild but as he sees it, czar-like leadership is the ultimate way to hold off enemies. In fact, it makes it clear that the Russians are more comfortable with the authoritarian rule that has guided them through history. This is discussed more closely in the paragraphs that follow.
To better understand the authoritarian rule, it is good to go back to history in what can be termed as the restoration of the “leader role.” Previously, the Soviet Union had thrived on a silent “elections without choice” clause. The eventual abandoning of its monopoly nature was it doing and thus its end. It killed the regime. The changes in the electoral system in 1988 were the major stepping stone. It allowed for both regime sponsored candidates and independent ones to be on the ballot paper. Voters turn out increased as it became more voluntary and secret in confined polling booths. The results showed a major change in voting trends but the incumbent Mr. Yuriy Soloy’ey warned that power struggles were now in progress. For others, this was a major step for the Russian society in a bid for further growth in democracy of the nation.
The lections continued to take twist and turns with the coming up of Duma. Notable people who openly spoke about the growth of authoritarian rule include billionaire Berezovskiy. He is a man who had been forced to deprive himself of his controlling powers of the country’s frost national television channel (ORT), Russian Public Television. This is a key reason for his exile in United Kingdom as earlier stated. Such was the pressure that in July of 2000 the billionaire stepped down from his parliamentary seat. In his own words, he did not want to participate in the Nations downfall and the establishing of a new authoritarian regime. He distanced himself from what he deemed as the growth of a czar type leadership of of sorts.
Authoritarian growth was pushing even the most powerful out of Russia there remained one man, Mr. Khodorkovskiy, who in addition to financing some political parties in a way that was very likely to give him the popularity to be a force to reckon with in a new Duma but was also working in evolving his “Open Russia” charitable foundation (Riasanovsky, Nicholas 237). The Kremlin was well aware of the fact that if the did nothing to stop the ambitious oligarch, it would be bad business for them. Khodorkovskiy’s ratings were increasing; his representation in the major regions grew stronger by the day. It was now clear that he was preparing the base for his presidential bid. He refused to take the hint when the Kremlin called him over for a “friendly talk.”
What followed was a long hearing in Moscow that saw him being imprisoned for 9 years for the charges of tax evasion and fraud. It would later be reduced to 8years on appeal. In his view, Khodorkovskiy felt that the whole thing was planned by deputy head, Igor’ Sechin, in this Presidential administration regime. The business society received the news as shock. Putin was clear in his strategy that they had to go with the new laws or leave the country, anyone however rich who tried to oust him would face similar fate. The arrest did not end intimidation fro scurty officers as there inspections on various companies. In the first two years of his presidency, random raids were carried out in Mikhail Fridman’s TNK, Viktor Veksel’berg’s Renova and Kakha Benukidze’s United Engineering. Businesses remained apprehensive. It had been put out there that authorities had the mandate to eliminate ant business that incurred their disapproval.
Every year after this wave of intimidation, businesses shifted to other European countries. Notable ones are Verrein Pharmaceutical owned by a one time presidential candidate that moved to Monaco and the Rusnef Oil that shifted to UK due to high and targeted taxation. It is no coincidence that Russia became authoritarian at the exact same time that Putin’s leadership team consisted of more men with a history in the Military and other security agencies. There is a thin line between the way he ran the nation and their tough military discipline.
In as much as some may want to interpret the growth in authoritarian practices under Putin as being returned to the past, the soviet life, it in fact reflects something new. There is very little continuity between the past soviets totalitarian towards the current politics of the Putin’s political machine. Both the aftermath of the 1991 coup attempt and the Perestroika-era reforms are the major destroyers of the strengths of the soviet totalitarian structure, including the command economy and communist party rule. (Hale, Henry 37)
From the late 90s, more of Boris Yeltsin's oligarchs continue to leave the political arena. Replacing them are a new business elite from the Siloviki, most of who are law enforcement and security agency veterans. They form the backbone of the new Putin administration. It has become common for security forces to take over the board rooms of corporate bodies. These are people who have the power to manipulate intelligence, armed forces, state prosecutors and almost any arm of government to intimidate their business rivals. Their tendency to turn to secret service tools to their advantage has inclined the regime towards a more authoritarian political system. (Treisman, Daniel 151)
The question is Putin good for Russia has been examined in this essay and it is clear that with the shortcomings and also the advantages that he comes with, he is like any other leader albeit with a unique style of leadership. Let it not be forgotten that he found the country in turmoil and has managed to come up with policies that favor the ordinary citizen. Putin will still demand a part in Russia’s history. He will leave a mark in our time. He deserves to be better understood his shortcomings not withstanding.