The BBC World Service has done a number of radio documentaries on Russia and Putin. The Kremlin and the World is a four part series on Russia’s relationship with its “near abroad,” energy politics, Europe, and the United States. The second series, After the KGB, chronicles the fall and rise of the Russian secret service since the collapse of communism. In addition to all this, BBC has set up a special website called the Putin Project. Therein are several reports and interviews on the social, cultural, political, and economic state of Russia. You can also find more Russia goodies on BBC News‘ Resurgent Russia page.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
Brian Whitmore often says on the Power Vertical podcast that approval ratings in 60 percent range just aren’t good enough for a politician like Vladimir Putin. Given the lack of political alternatives and the dominance of the state’s narrative on television, Putin needs approval ratings in 70 or 80 percent range to have a comfortable political mandate. Thanks to the Sochi Olympics and taking Crimea, Putin is back up to 80 percent according to a recent Levada poll. Putin hasn’t garnered this level of approval since March 2008 when his rating peaked at 85 percent. Putin isn’t the only one basking in the Olympic-annexation surge. Sixty percent of Russians also think the country is going in the right direction, a high, once again, not seen since March 2008. Even the hapless Dmitry Medvedev and his government are riding Putin’s coattails. Medvedev enjoys 62 percent and the government 58 percent approval rating. In January, Medvedev was at an all time low of 48 percent while approval for the government hasn’t been this high since March 2008 when Putin became prime minister.
How to explain this jump in Putin rating? Denis Volkov of the Leveda Center told Slon the following:
“Eighty percent is not the highest result for Putin. During the Georgian War in 2008 his approval rating was 88 percent. But the mechanism driving the numbers is the same. The rise occurred thus: the Olympics added a few percentage points and the rating grew a few more because of the possibility of war and the mobilization of patriotic sentiment. And the joining of Crimea to Russia gave an additional 8-10 percent.”
When 80 percent of the population approves of the president, you have to be determined to express an opposing opinion. I’m not talking now about the internet where there is a sufficient broad range of views which is contrary to what’s on television.”
No, he’s talking about television where there’s only one opinion.
By Sean — 10 years ago
Russian Communists don’t like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, reports the Associated Press. But the communists in question are not the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), as the report implies. There are several communist parties in Russia and the one that has began a campaign against Indy is a small 500 member sect called Communists of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region (KPLO).
According to their website, KPLO have no official affiliation with the KPRF. Rather they, “are communists, like the KPRF, only better: more modern, younger, lively, and creative.” They forgot to add freakier. Just check out the accompanying photo. I’ve seen a lot of things but never communist vestments. And what’s up with that Young Pioneer? He looks like should adorn someone’s lawn.
And what has the good Dr. Jones done to get the KPLO all hot and bothered? As the Ideological Committee of the TsK KPLO explains in a letter to the film’s stars Harrison Ford and Kate Blanchet:
Your role in the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skill offends all the Soviet and Russia people, all who remember the difficult 1950s, when our country finished the reconstruction after the Great [Patriotic]War, and didn’t send to the United States merciless terrorists.
A bunch of ranting and attempts at historical corrections follow. The film’s plot centers around Indy battling Soviet agents trying to get their hands on some skull with secret powers that, I assume, will aid them in world domination. Maybe someone should let the KPLO know that it’s just a movie, and probably not a very good one in the first place. Also, maybe someone at AP should do their homework and realize that in Russia, not all Communist parties are the same.
By Sean — 13 years ago
Though there are a few exceptions, reporting on the elections in Belarus have been awful. Granted, this is a statement that demands qualification. There has been a lot of articles on Belarus, the elections, Lukashenko’s authoritarian grip, the arrests, beatings, and general harassment of the Opposition, the closing of newspapers and independent media, and of course the modest protests in Minsk. All of these are worthy stories and they all should be reported. Still, in my opinion, something has been lacking. Amid the deluge of news, few have actually told me anything explaining why Lukashenko is genuinely popular and why even without rigging the elections, which was certainly done, he would have won anyway. The answer that most have given is a standard and reductive one: Lukashenko’s rule by fear. Sure fear is a factor, but frankly I don’t completely buy it.
This is why I think that Mark Almond’s comment in the Guardian is so interesting. Bucking all conventional reporting, Almond not only points out the blatant hypocrisy of the United States and to a certain extent the EU on Belarus, he notes that the root of this might have something to do with capitalism.
On American hypocrisy, he writes:
Our media have a split personality when it comes to these two guardians of democracy. On Belarus they are quoted like Old Testament prophets, but mention them in connection with Iraq and people recall that they were the only US officials with President Bush and Tony Blair on January 30 2003 when Bush suggested provoking an incident with Iraq to get the war with Saddam going.
Of course if you believed them about Iraq then you won’t choke swallowing their story about Belarus. But let’s avoid the slick argument that just because veterans of the US’s Central American policy under Reagan allege that Lukashenko has “disappeared” some vocal critics that cannot be true either.
Almond then goes on to point out that while no one in the West batted an eye at when Rose Revolutionary Saakashvili received 97% of the vote, Lukashenko has gotten threats of sanctions from the EU.
But charges of hypocrisy are easy in this complex world. Of course the US isn’t going to give the same rhetoric to the fledgling government in Iraq or Afghanistan as it is to Belarus. We should remember that platitudes to democracy are doled out in relation to geopolitical interests.
As to why Belorussians support Lukashenko, the reason is again found in Bill Clinton’s adage: It’s the economy, stupid! Almond argues that the reason why the Milinkevich’s opposition has no support is because it has “offered no economic platform [and] just echoes of these western allegations against Lukashenko.” One wonders who is Milinkevich’s audience: Western governments and international civil society foundations that start salivating when you speak of looking west rather than east or a Belarussian constituency that has daily bread and butter concerns.
The basis of Lukashenko’s power is that he has prevented Belarus from descending into the “shock therapy” madness that so many other post-Soviet states have experienced. On this, Almond writes:
No communist-era throwback, Belarus has an evolving market economy. But the market is orientated towards serving the needs of the bulk of the population, not a tiny class of nouveaux riches and their western advisers and money launderers. Unlike in Georgia or Ukraine, officials are not getting richer as ordinary folk get poorer. The absence of endemic corruption among civil servants and police is one reason why the wave of so-called “coloured revolutions” stopped before Minsk.
Lukashenko is far from an egalitarian, nor is he a champion of human rights in any way. But few heads of state are, and I certainly wish all of them would be put on trial at some point. Though I’m sure some readers will call me an apologist, I have no intention of apologizing for Lukashenko’s obvious dictatorship. What I’m calling for is some clarity when looking at these states. We need to understand that the narrative of “Orange Revolution” is not a formula. And different states have their own particular social, economic and political calculations. I think when that is understood perhaps a political opposition will win by addressing the real issues that concern its citizens, rather than a flawed and hypocritical Western consensus.