Speculation and debate over who will be Russia’s next president has all but screeched to a halt. While a few months ago Kommersant was speculating whether Putin would pick a governor, and if so which one, now it seems that no one is willing to hedge their bets that the next President of Russia will be anyone but Sergei Ivanov.
And, dear reader, if you’re a gamblin’ man, you wouldn’t put any money down on anyone else but Ivanov. According to the current betting line provided by the internet gaming site, Unibet, the First Deputy Prime Minster is a favorite with odds of 2.2 to one. Ivanov continues to deny that he’s running for the top job, but no one believes him. Dmitri Medvedev comes in second with odds of 3.75 to one. Following far behind is former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov at 10 to one. Other Russia hopeful Mikhail Krasyanov is 14 to one. Finally, it appears that the Communists look to fade further into irrelevancy, at least on the level of presidential politics. KPRF mainstay Gennady Zyuganov rates at 30 to one.
Even the most unlikely of victors get thrown a bone in the betting world. Mikhail Khorodkovsky gets some love at a distant 200 to one, as does Russian first lady Liudmila Putina. One notable absence is bogey man tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Western darling Gary Kasparov. Their odds are apparently so steep that they don’t even merit mention. I’m sure they rate better in a death pool.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Stalin never posed with his shirt off, but Putin’s topless poses while fishing in Siberia certainly smacks of a “socialist realism” for post-Soviet Russia. The Putin cult is no secret. Nashi’s reverence for Putin approaches the Komsomol’s love of Lenin. The new recommended history textbook, which will be introduced to Russian high schools next year, places Putin as the alpha and omega of the 21st century Russian state. If Putin’s political prowess, intellect, quick wit, and athleticism hasn’t built him up as the New Postmodern Russian Man, his pecks certainly will.
The Russian media is abuzz with opinions of Putin’s photos. Though criticism of the pictures exists, it appears that most Russians, especially women, have greeted them with approval. As the Associated Press reports, when Yevgeniya Albats said that the photos were “unbecoming of a Russian leader,” she received a barrage of emails from women expressing their love for their presidential Adonis. It’s too bad they also didn’t focus on her silly claim that “the photos were mean to enhance Putin’s personal appeal to voters–a strong signal that he doesn’t plan to relinquish power.” With a approval rating hovering at a consistent 70%, one doubts that topless photos are necessary even if Putin desired to stay on. Sergei Markov of Moscow’s Institute for Political Research summed it up simply: “He’s cool. That’s been the image throughout the presidency, cool.”
But most of today’s English reporting on Putin pics is buzz about the buzz. More specifically Komsomolskaya pravda’s article “Be Like Putin!” The article provides seven exercises for the aspiring Putinite to become just like Vlad. And they say that fizkul’turа is dead.
And the Russian media is having fun with it. In a headline, Argumenty i Fakty declared “Putin’s Torso has subdued Europe“. Numerous Russian news sites are translating articles from the Western press that look to find the hidden geopolitical meaning of Putin’s chest. London Times’ Michael Grove admitted that Putin’s chest was Russia’s secret weapon, making a direct connection between Russia’s asserting of its military muscle and Putin showing his. Grove writes:
As Putin’s careful release of the pictures of his own taut form demonstrate, the deployment of male nudity is, above all, a power play. On one level Vlad is showing us all that he’s a remarkably fit man for his age (54) and that, unlike in the decadent West, Russia’s leaders remain the physical embodiment of their nation’s vigour – classical champions in the manner of those Roman emperors who would renew their mandate to rule on the battlefield or even in the gladiatorial ring. His bare-chested peacockery is, in that respect, in line with the broader cult of Putin as his nation’s silverback – the leader of the band.
The body of the President is a testament to the body of of the country. If Putin is strong, the Russian state is strong. In the quick click of a camera, Putin’s two bodies, his corporal and symbolic, merge into one.
By Sean — 9 years ago
My post about Joachim Crima, the so-called “Volgograd Obama,” has received a lot of traffic thanks to Joshua Keating’s link to it at Foreign Policy. So given the interest in this Russian political novelty, I figured I’d do an update on the first Afro-Russian to run for public office.
The first articles I read about Crima suggested that his candidacy was a scheme of local politicians to potentially suck votes from United Russia. I still can’t figure out how this would be possible, and so far there has been no evidence to prove that Crima’s candidacy is merely a political gimmick. Russian political commentators seem baffled, viewing Crima’s campaign as something that would appeal to voters “for the sake of a joke” or as “an act of protest against Russia’s moribund political life.” Indeed, Crima’s being an outside is part of his appeal. As Rossiiskaya razeta found out, all the people they talked to were unified around one thing: a distrust in the government. Crima is also not some wacky oppositionist. It turns out that he’s been a member of United Russia since 2007, as one reader of this blog noted.
In fact, Joachim Crima’s biography could be held up as a kind of post-Soviet Horatio Alger. Crima left his native Guinea-Bissau twelve years ago for Russia. Like during Soviet times, Russia remains a place for Africans, Middle Easterners, and Asians to get a university education. Crima enrolled in the Volgograd Pedagogical Institute in the Natural Geography Department. It was there that he adopted the nickname Vasillii Ivanovich in honor of the hero in the film Chapaev. One wonders if Crima was aware that Vasilii Ivanovich is also the butt of many Russian jokes. Be that as it may, it was at the Pedagogical University where Crima, now Vasia, earned an education in chemistry and physics, and met his wife Anait, a native of Armenia.
After finishing his degree, Crima decided to remain in Russia and moved to Srednaya Akhtuba. There, he bought three hectares of land and became a watermelon farmer. To Americans, the idea of a black man becoming a watermelon farmer feeds right into some of the worst racial stereotypes. But the mythical black man-watermelon nexus might not really apply in Crima’s case. The truth is that Akhtuba is one the Russia’s main watermelon growing regions. And if Crima wanted to be a farmer, well, watermelons was a practical choice. This is not to say that Crima’s race didn’t play a role in his success. It was as a African watermelon seller that he became a local celebrity. As Trud writes, “The smiling dark-skinned seller attracted the attention of many to the point where extra publicity is unnecessary.”
So why did Crima decide to enter “big politics”? “I love to be in the public eye. I love being a leader,” he told Rossiiskaya gazeta. “I was the head of the parliament at school, a monitor in my high school back home and chaired the Guinea-Bissau student association in Volgograd province, and now I’ve decided to go into big politics.” That said, Crima is also aware of his potential place in history. “Money is not important for me. I don’t even know how much the head of a district gets paid. I’m interested in writing my name into history. And although my skin is dark, the district’s accountant will be white. And as for money, well my watermelon farm will feed me and my family. And if I have a bad harvest, I will work as a tutor as I usually do in winter. In addition to chemistry and physics, I know five languages–my native, Russian, English, French, and Portuguese. Now I practice my French and English at night because foreign reporters will be coming.”
But entering history and honest work is not his only thing that drives this Afro-Russian. Another one of Crima’s inspriations is none other than Vladimir Putin. “I’ve lived in Russia many, many years and I see how Vladimir Vladimirovich runs the country. I think that if the country had a hundred of such people like Putin, Russia would be the first in the world. I respect him very much and want to follow his example. He’s an excellent person, and a serious figure on the world stage.”
Indeed, Crima’s candidacy, which has yet to be finalized by the local electoral commission, has put him on his own little world stage. But not so much because of his political views. So far they remain cursory. In an interview with Agence France Press, Crima vowed to address the dire state of roads and drinking water in Serednaya Akhtuba. He also possesses a measure of democratic idealism. In response to questions about the seriousness of his candidacy and the uphill fight he faces, he said, “If this is a democracy, then why should I withdraw? Let the people decide!”
Crima’s promise to repair roads and clean up the local water supply and his admiration for Putin is all well and good but, frankly, it is his race that makes him a political curiosity. Russia isn’t exactly known for its racial tolerance, to put it mildly. One need only cite the headlines of Russian articles on the political outsider to get a sense of how Crima’s race is playing out. Rossiiskaya gazeta‘s headline: “The Leader of the Colored.” From United Russia’s news page: “Joachim Crima: Black on the Outside, White on the Inside.” There are also the countless references to Crima as Russia’s own Barack Obama and how if elected he promises to “toil like a Negro.”
And then there are the pictures of a smiling Crima holding watermelons.
As Crima himself admits, the travails of being a black man in provincial Russia are not easy. But he’s optimistic that they can be conquered. “When I first arrived to Srendaya Akhtuba, when people saw me for the first time they, especially women, crossed to the other side of the street,” he told Dni. “Now people know me and my watermelons. Many people approach me and say hello. The color of my skin has no meaning, time is simply needed for people to see me as the person that I am. If you have black skin, it doesn’t mean you are black on the inside. The main thing is that your thoughts are honest and people will understand you.” Nor is Crima concerned about the racial stereotypes about him. “If Russians are accustomed to calling dark-skinned people ‘negroes’ then so be it. I am not in the least bit offended because you have to be proud of who you are,” he said in an interview with Agence France Press.
Crima’s political campaign is only beginning. To put things into further gear, United Russia held an online press conference today. For those non-Russian readers, I’ll try to provide some excerpts tomorrow.
By Sean — 5 years ago
By William Risch @williamrisch
The Russian occupation of Crimea over the weekend has alarmed President Barack Obama, the UN, NATO, the EU, and, last but not least, the people of Ukraine. A week ago, it looked like the Euromaidan protest movement , which began in late November over President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the EU, and grew into a mass movement against Yanukovych’s authoritarian rule, had won. After an agreement with the political opposition on February 21, Yanukovych and his entourage fled Kyiv. The next day, Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada, overthrew Yanukovych. Most importantly, Ukraine had avoided civil war, despite significant differences over things like historical memory , relations with Russia, and attitudes toward the Euromaidan protest movement in Western and Eastern Ukraine. Pro-Yanukovych elites in Eastern Ukraine pledged their loyalty to Kyiv and accused Yanukovych of betraying them.
Then came Crimea.
On February 27, unknown armed men seized Crimea’s parliament in Simferopol. Then Russian military forces, some stationed in Crimea, took over or surrounded Ukrainian military installations. They claimed to be protecting Crimea’s citizens, of whom about 60 percent are ethnic Russian. Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, claimed that Russians had been killed there. Yet on March 2, the speaker of Crimea’s parliament said he knew nothing about it.
Ukraine, rather than facing civil war, is threatened with partition by Russia.
Take Kharkiv, an eastern industrial city. Hired thugs, some from Russian cities like Voronezh and Belgorod, came to a meeting of “patriotic Kharkivians,” stormed the governor’s office, dragged out about 30 Euromaidan activists inside, and beat them up and humiliated them on Freedom Square. They hoisted Russian flags from the governor’s office. Russians from outside Ukraine were involved. Over the weekend, Euromaidan activist Vitaly Umanets discovered an invitation from “Ukrainian Civil Self-Defense” to residents of Belgorod and Rostov-on-the-Don, Russian cities bordering Ukraine, to take part in organized resistance in Donetsk and Kharkiv while posing as ordinary tourists at the border.
Many in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea distrust the new regime. Yet this weekend’s acts of violence in Kharkiv and Donetsk, or fake stories about such acts in Crimea, are reminiscent of fictitious and semi-fictitious accounts of violence against ethnic Germans that Nazi Germany used to justify annexation of the Sudetenland and the conquest of Czechoslovakia and Poland. Russia’s Federation Council on March 1 had approved use of force in Ukraine “for the normalization of the political situation in this country.” With the Russian media since late November portraying Euromaidan protestors as extreme nationalists and hirelings of the West, Putin most likely is using Russian forces, and provocateurs from across the border, to take not just Crimea, but also Eastern Ukraine, and maybe even install a more loyal regime in Kyiv.