Michael Idov’s ” The Hibertation” in the New Republic is a must read.
The New Republic
The Hibernation by Michael Idov
Meet Dmitri Medvedev, a docile president for a docile Russia.
Post Date Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Minutes after the polls closed on March 2 in the westernmost Russian city of Kaliningrad–certifying a blowout victory by presidential candidate Dmitri Anatolyevich Medvedev, handpicked heir to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin– the men of the hour made an appearance at a massive concert underway in Red Square. As broadcast by NTV, a television channel owned by Gazprom (where Medvedev chairs the board of directors), the scene looked like something out of Mission: Impossible. A low-placed camera tracked alongside Putin and Medvedev, dressed Kremlin Casual in a boxy leather jacket (Dima) and a parka (Volodya), as they strode, to a rock beat, across the convex cobblestone expanse of the square. The shot’s director, perhaps taking another cue from Tom Cruise movies, had removed background extras or anything else the eye could use to calibrate the heroes’ heights: Medvedev is 5’4″ to Putin’s 5’7″. The action duo climbed onto the stage, and Medvedev–a professed headbanger who had had a box reserved at the Led Zeppelin reunion show in London on the day Putin named him his successor–got to live out a rock ‘n’ roll moment. He grabbed the mic and yelled “Privet, Rossiya! Privet, Moskva!” (the Russian equivalent of “Hello, Cleveland”). The square went wild. His fervor subsiding, the president-elect segued into an anodyne victory speech about the need to “fortify stability” and “improve quality of life.” The crowd began chanting “Con-grats! Con-grats!”–an unusually impersonal choice of a mantra. Medvedev passed the microphone to his benefactor, and the chant immediately changed. “Pu-tin! Pu-tin! PU-TIN!!!” Medvedev politely smiled.
This episode is likely to repeat, in one form or another, throughout the first months and even years of Medvedev’s rule. If it seems as if Russia has elected a man nobody knows anything about, it’s because Russia, with a complacency easily mistakable for contentedness, didn’t really elect Dmitri Medvedev at all. It reelected Vladimir Putin, in the way Tibetan monks pick the same Dalai Lama each time, regardless of the human form he’s taken. The rubber- stamping of the Kremlin candidate illuminates a useful truth about Russian society: Putin’s stifling regime and the country’s oil-fueled prosperity are viewed not as unrelated phenomena but as cause and effect. Medvedev, even as he formally represents the end of that regime, is also its ultimate triumph.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
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.
Now that your ears are sufficiently stimulated, you can get your eyes titillated with PBS Frontline‘s special report Putin’s Plan.
By Sean — 4 years ago
On August 9, 1999, fifteen years ago, Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin, an unknown, ex-KGB man to become Prime Minister of Russia. Then, no one would have guessed that Putin would still be with us today, and likely for many more years to come. For the anniversary, Oleg Kashin has provided long post detailing how the Russian press covered Putin’s appointment. How about the English language press? How did they describe this now historic moment?
Colin McMahon of The Daily Telegraph wrote:
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the man they called “the grey cardinal” in St Petersburg for his careful avoidance of the political limelight, is a blank slate to the average Russian.
For the third time in the last four tries, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has plucked from relative obscurity a bureaucrat to take over the post of prime minister of the Russian Federation.
Mr Putin has the added advantage, or handicap, depending on one’s point of view, of being named Mr Yeltsin’s preferred successor as president. . .
He spoke little, smiled less and, except in the hottest of times, wore over his suit a leather jacket that still says KGB. That deadpan style was on display on Monday night in an extensive interview on the independent station NTV.
He seemed guarded on just about everything, as if the interview were an interrogation and not a get-to-know-you visit.
“I have a wife and two children, two girls, ages 13 and 14,” he said. “They study in Moscow.”
Asked about interests beyond work: “Sport, literature, music. Which sport? Fighting and judo.”
If Mr Putin lacks charisma, say his supporters, it has yet to hurt his effectiveness. . .
Mr Chubais, a Yeltsin confidant regarded in the West as one of the smartest free marketers in Russia, opposed Yeltsin’s plan to name Mr Putin to replace Sergei Stepashin as prime minister.
A source in the political movement Right Cause told Interfax that while Mr Chubais considers Mr Putin a “contemporary politician” and a “powerful leader,” he predicts that public politics will test Mr Putin’s abilities.
At this stage, Mr Putin would be considered a long shot to win the presidency, no matter how much Mr Yeltsin might wish it.
Celestine Bohlen of the New York Times:
Nor do many Russians necessarily believe that Mr. Putin, 46, will still be Mr. Yeltsin’s preferred choice as a successor by the time the presidential elections roll around, several months after December’s parliamentary elections. Russian politics are littered with men who, at one time or another, held the mantle that has now been bestowed on Mr. Putin.
In Prime Minister Putin, Mr. Yeltsin will have a loyal servant — and a recent boss of Russia’s domestic intelligence service at that — who will be more ready than his predecessor to pull the kind of levers of power that might make even Russia’s most brazen regional bosses, an increasingly independent lot, think twice. Often portrayed as the kingmakers in the coming elections, they are still sensitive to the granting of funds and the release of compromising information — tools at the Kremlin’s disposal.
Brian Whitmore, now of RFE/RL’s the Power Vertical, wrote in the Moscow Times:
Vladimir Putin is a former KGB spy, a shrewd bureaucratic operator – and a completely untested public politician. He also has the reputation of a man who is completely loyal to his immediate boss. . .
But analysts say that Putin, an uninspiring speaker who rarely makes public statements, would be a tough sell in Russia’s presidential elections, scheduled for next July.
“I can’t imagine that in one year’s time it will be possible to turn Putin into a viable public politician,” said Yevgeny Volk of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Moscow office. Instead, said Volk, “Putin will be a useful and obedient tool in Yeltsin’s hands.” Putin, nominated for prime minister on Monday after Yeltsin fired Sergei Stepashin, has been director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor agency to the Soviet KGB, and has chaired the Security Council, which advises the president. His views on important matters such as economic policy are not well known.
Several observers said that Stepashin was sacked in favor of Putin because Putin is a tougher operator, more likely to use all available means against Yeltsin’s opponents – Gennady Zyuganov’s Communists, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and Russia’s increasingly assertive regional leaders.
Throughout his career, Putin has been a tough bureaucratic infighter and a master of behind-the-scenes politics who has been able to advance his career and loyally serve various masters.
Corky Siemaszko in the Daily News:
Putin, who admitted he had not “been involved in politics,” said he would run for president on his record in office in the coming months.
Yeltsin, who cannot seek a third term, gave no reason for firing the loyal Stepashin after three months in the job, but Putin suggested Stepashin’s failure to end the standoff with Muslim militants in the Caucasus played a role in his dismissal.
Political analysts noted the emergence of Moscow mayor and Yeltsin rival, Yuri Luzhkov, and his new political alliance last week as the catalyst. Muscovites were cynical.
“What do you expect from an ill president and his troupe of clowns?” asked a Muscovite named Marina.
Kremlin watchers, however, said Yeltsin’s anointing of Putin shows how desperate he is to find a successor who will guarantee immunity from prosecution for him and his allegedly corrupt entourage.
They also predicted Putin would not last long.
“He wants his allies to rally around Putin, but it’s too late,” said Columbia University political science Prof. Steven Solnick. “Putin has never even run for political office. . . . He’s not presidential material.”
Yulia Latynina opined in the Moscow Times:
Monday morning, it finally became clear who will not become Russia’s president in the year 2000. It will not be Vladimir Putin. He will not become president simply because prime ministers are sacked in Russia these days when they are just ripening. Besides, it’s impossible to stay for a year as an heir apparent to a sultan who is fanatically in love with his power and has only a vague idea of what is happening in reality. The astonishing fact that President Boris Yeltsin seriously considers himself capable of appointing his successor shows how little the president understands the political reality. Any nomination from him would inevitably cause a serious allergic reaction in the voters. The only thing worse for Putin would be an endorsement from a Russian lesbian association.
The New York Times editors wrote:
Mr. Yeltsin’s latest selection, Vladimir Putin, shares some of the same questionable qualifications as his immediate predecessors, Sergei Stepashin, who lasted only three months, and Yevgeny Primakov, who served for nine months. All three held senior positions in the Russian security services that succeeded the Soviet K.G.B., organizations not known for teaching the fine points of democracy. During the cold war Mr. Putin, who is 46, worked as a top Russian security officer in Germany, and most recently ran Russia’s internal security service.
None of these men had experience in economic management when they were appointed Prime Minister, making it difficult for them to devise programs that might revive Russia’s sinking economy. If Mr. Putin is confirmed by the Communist-dominated Duma, he will have to move quickly to show the International Monetary Fund that he is exercising budgetary restraint, collecting taxes effectively and taking other steps to justify a new round of lending.
Mr. Yeltsin’s clumsy efforts to stage-manage the next presidential election now leave Mr. Putin as his designated candidate in a likely field of far more prominent, seasoned politicians. Other possible contenders include Mr. Primakov; Yuri Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow; Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, and Aleksandr Lebed, a former general who is now Governor of a region in Siberia. So far the only prospective candidate with strong democratic credentials is Grigory Yavlinsky, who has had difficulty building a national base. It is hard to imagine how Mr. Putin, with no experience in electoral politics and no organized party behind him, can expect to compete for the presidency.
Alice Lagnado in the Times London:
Vladimir Putin, chosen by President Yeltsin yesterday as Russia’s acting Prime Minister and the Kremlin’s favoured presidential candidate, is a loyal but little-known figure known as the “grey cardinal”.
Mr Putin, 47 and married with two children, graduated from the law faculty of Leningrad University before being recruited into the KGB’s foreign espionage operation. He was posted to Dresden, part of the then East Germany, for 15 years.
In the 1980s he became an adviser to Anatoli Sobchak, the head of the Leningrad Soviet, or legislative assembly.
Mr Putin’s conscientious work – he was said to have had the final say in all of Mr Sobchak’s decisions – earned him the post of first deputy head of the St Petersburg city government in 1994, and the “grey cardinal” tag. When Mr Sobchak, St Petersburg’s first Mayor, lost the 1996 elections, Mr Putin moved to Moscow to become deputy to Pavel Borodin, Mr Yeltsin’s administration manager.
In March 1997 he became head of the Kremlin’s Control Department, a watchdog body, where he oversaw relations with Russia’s 89 regions. There he was dubbed an “imperialist” due to his toughness in preventing regional leaders seceding from Russia.
In July last year his loyalty paid off when he was promoted to head the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. But he received only a half-hearted welcome from liberals, who saw him as a reformist intelligence chief. He is believed to be a protege of Anatoli Chubais, the architect of Russian privatisation, It is believed Mr Chubais was a key figure in his promotion. “There are rumours in Moscow that Putin landed his post with the help of influential natives of Leningrad working in the Government and presidential administration,” the Segodnya newspaper wrote of his appointment.
Since then there has been some disappointment that Mr Putin has failed to meet important challenges. His officers still spend much time and resources on harassing environmentalists. The case continues against Aleksandr Nikitin, a former naval captain accused of spying, after he wrote a report claiming that the Russian Navy dumped nuclear waste in the Arctic Sea.
By Sean — 11 years ago
At some point, I don’t know when, Martin Luther proclaimed, “Who has the youth, has the future.” If this is true, then Putin has assured that his “plan” will continue well after Russia’s youth grow up and take the reigns of power. But Putin’s success in capturing the youth isn’t because of Nashi. It is more a product of the first generation’s formative years coinciding with Russia’s economic boom. The result is a generation, which many now call Putin’s Generation, that places wealth, careerism, and political conservativism as hallmarks of their identity. That is at least what VTsIOM’s Dmitry Polikanov says in his article “The New Russians.”
Here is a run down of Polikanov’s findings from surveying 18-24 year olds:
- Acquiring wealth (62%) trumps family (58%), children (45%), career (37%) and a good education (21%) as key goals. It’s quite interesting that a good education is at the opposite end of wealth, since one would expect the former providing a greater opportunity for get the latter. What it tells me is that for Russian youths, wealth is viewed as something obtainable without or in spite of education.
- Russian youth are more politically apathetic than the general population. Only 55% of youth said they didn’t engaged in a political action in the last two years compared to 47% of the population. The most common political act is voting. In fact, Polikanov finds that youth vote 5-10% less than the general population. Only 37% say they discuss politics. Youth’s political attitudes, when they have them, are “liberal Right,” and only 25% favor “the free market and political democracy.” On the whole most prefer non-political forms of organization and expression such as literary or cultural societies.
- Russian youth support the authorities. ” Putin’s youth aren’t looking for a democratic “revolution”, and don’t place much stake in the concept of a Western democratic model,” says Polikanov. About half (40-45%) support United Russia and other pro-government parties. They are completely turned off to both the extreme left and right. About 52-55% identify with the nation as “a concept capable of uniting the entire nation,” but only 9% agree with “Russia for the Russians.” “Unlike many liberals’ expectations in the 1990s,” Polikanov writes, “the new generation is mostly loyal to the authorities and reluctant to support the opposition in any form.”
- Their views of religion are increasingly more Protestant than Orthodox. About a quarter of religious youth emphasize personal salvation and morality rather than observing Orthodox customs and ritual.
Taken as a whole, Polikanov says that his findings show that “Putin’s youngsters are more individualistic, less romantic, more pragmatic and more focused on achieving personal success.”
Excerpts from interviews with young people paint a more nuanced picture. Here are a few quotes.
Alexander, 23, actor:
“A young actor can earn a decent enough wage, and this is improving with every year. Someone starting out, for example, will get $150-$200 for a day of filming. You start negotiating as you get more experience. Though you’ve got to hurry to get in ahead of someone else. You see, everything in Russia depends on the individual, on how much he actually wants things himself.”
Masha, 24, PhD student:
“Overall, though I don’t agree with much of what the current regime stands for, they have to be praised for getting us out of the chaos of the 1990s. Of course, you can criticize Putin for tightening the screws. But then again bringing order always requires some screws to be tightened.”
Denis , 26, student and small-scale entrepreneur:
“I’m interested in buying a car – not politics. . . As far as I’m concerned, success in life is about being one’s own boss. It’s about stability. Confidence. Family. And… well… I’d say its easier these days to have all four. Definitely compared to the 1990s. You can buy anything you need now. Apart from a flat – you can work day in, day out, and you still won’t have enough. I’ve heard the government are offering grants, but I’m not really at that stage yet. I’ve only just got together with a girl, you see. I’m hoping something serious will come of it.
Are our politicians changing things for the better? I can’t really answer that. There is progress on some fronts. Life is changing. But politics don’t interest me. I’m more occupied with other things, like buying a car. I’ll definitely do it this year, though I haven’t decided which one yet.”
Stepan, 25, father of two children:
“With kids, your problems will increase. But I’m optimistic.
How are things with money? Not easy. I’m always looking for the next ruble. But I don’t complain – if I need something, I’ll always find a way of getting it. It’s something I’ve learned in life – if you give yourself a goal and a deadline, you’ll do things. Of course, you’ll sometimes hit a brick wall, like Russian bureaucracy, but even this is getting easier. Not so long ago we even came across a helpful government official. . .
We’ve got relatives and friends who have moved abroad, but we want to stay and work in Russia. I know when my children start to grow up, my problems will increase. I know I can’t be entirely confident about the next 10 years. But I’m optimistic when I look to the future.”
Nikita , 24, classical musician:
“Politics are important to me. My sympathies lie on the side of liberal democracy, but the problem is that this have never had any sensible proponents in Russia. I didn’t vote out of principle, but the way things stand, I think I would probably have voted for Medvedev. He seemed to me the lesser evil.”
Angela, 20, student:
“My identity is in being Russian and Orthodox. . .
Am I interested in politics? Not really. I don’t watch news on the TV. I try not to watch TV at all. But I voted in the elections. For Medvedev. Why? I like Putin’s politics, and I think Medvedev will continue in the same way. It is thanks to Putin that Russia is on the up.
I think Russia is right to take a hard line abroad. You have to remember Russia takes up one sixth of the entire globe! The most important thing is that we avoid a war. I believe all people are brothers. Do I think a war is possible? Maybe. I think the US present a real danger with their politics.”
Alexander, 26, political activist and party worker:
“Being involved in public politics is like a drug.
How did it start? I’ve been actively involved in politics since my second year at university, but it was only in late 2004 when things really got interesting. This was when I founded a site – skazhi.net.
My idea was a response to an unpopular government decision to replace social benefits-in-kind with direct payments. We saw that people were upset, wanted to protest, but didn’t know where or how. So we decided to create a dynamic online map of Russia, with updates of all the protests going on around Russia. We ended up getting loads of coverage in the foreign media, including CNN.
As for me, I had great fun growing my beard and wearing a cap I wanted to play on the image of Che Guevara. I think that people quite liked it.
When the wave subsided, I left the public arena to work for a political party.
To be honest, I miss it loads. The exposure gave me a high… it was like a drug.”
Anna, 17, student:
“I don’t believe we are on a collision course with the West . .
Would I have taken part in the elections had I been 18? I think it would have probably been worth it. To be honest, I don’t feel any particular need or desire to vote.
Do I consider myself European? That’s a difficult one. I suppose I consider myself Russian first and foremost. Probably, yes, we are closer to Europe. Moscow at least. It is a completely different world in the eastern regions.
Today, everyone is talking about a clash of the West with Russia. I’m not sure about this. I’ve traveled a lot and I think that people generally respond to Russians well. The only exception to this is the Czechs, who for historical reasons really don’t like us.”