“What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped 10 women; I’d never have expected that from him. He surprised us all — we all envy him!” Few Russia watchers will forget this quip Putin in 2006 in reference to Israeli President Moshe Katsav’s rapist proclivities. Nor will his “If they’re in the airport, we’ll kill them there … and excuse me, but if we find them in the toilet, we’ll exterminate them in their outhouses,” in response to Chechen terrorists. That one tops Bush’s “smoke them out of their holes” quip. With Putin leaving office, NPR has compiled a short list and a story to remember him by. Scraps of Moscow has more on the subject. Can we expect Medvedev to top his patron?
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Dmitri Medvedev’s speech to the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum might be an indication of what he has in store for Russia. Before a crowd of Russian businessmen, Medvedev laid out his vision in a forty minute speech; a vision that when boiled down doesn’t look to rock the boat too much.
One of Medvedev’s themes revolved around the “s” word, svoboda, or freedom. “Freedom is better than non-freedom,” Medvedev declared, rather tritely. He then when on to emphasize that his view of freedom includes “personal freedom, economic freedom, and finally, freedom of expression.” How banal. Before anyone could get too excited with Medvedev’s liberal pretentions, he capped off his “freedom” rap with a Putinian maxim. “Freedom cannot be separated from the actual recognition of the power of law and to not chaos and respect the accepted order of the country.” Sounds like 2000 all over again.
At the moment, I take Medvedev’s “liberalism” as nothing more than campaign posturing. Sure, some might ask why he needs to placate the Russian business elite with a more liberal stance. Especially since his election is all but a forgone conclusion. The answer is that he’s not appealing to the Russian business elite’s liberal tendencies. They don’t really have any to appeal to. The last thing Russia’s chinovniki, er, businessmen want is anything akin to a populist notion of freedom. Medvedev’s statements are merely assurance that when in office he will continue along the present course. This is crystal clear when you put his “liberalism” alongside his statements about the law and the “accepted” order. In addition, Medvedev made it a point to refer to Putin six times. A move that I assume is to let the elite know that business will be as usual. Russia’s journey to 21st century modernization will be directed by the state and not against the fundamental interests of the Russian elite.
Here is where Medvedev’s plan of four “I”s come in: institutions, infrastructure, innovation, investment.
Within these four “I” Medvedev spelled out seven tasks: “overcoming legal nihilism, a radical reduction in administrative barriers, a reduction in taxes, the formation of a powerful and independent financial system, the modernization of infrastructure, the formation of the basis for a national system of innovation, and social development.” Notice there is no role for society in this effort. Like Russia’s many attempts at reform over the last three centuries, it is the state that will be its alpha and omega. Society’s seat at the table will be provisional, and at most advisory.
The truth of the matter is that Putin could have given this speech himself. And perhaps that is what is most comforting to the Russian business elite.
The same goes for voters. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is Putin or Medvedev at the helm as long the former is there to watch over the store. According to a recent poll conducted by the Leveda-Center, 80 percent of Russians polled plan on voting for Medvedev. People’s expectations seem to be similar to what they were in 2000 and 2004 says Kommersant.
Some 51 percent expect him to secure the great-power status for Russia, and the rule of law and order in the country are the highlights for 45 percent. Some 41 percent would like Medvedev to ensure fair distribution of income, 34 percent expect social protection from him and 34 percent want him to step up the government’s share in economy.
Moreover, Medvedev’s supporters see him as “a continuation and a copy of Putin;” a fact that certainly is the origin of his widespread support. While no one is sure who power will be distributed between the two, polled Russians seem fine with the idea of a power dyad.
Some 41 percent of respondents think both leaders will be equal after March 2 election, 23 percent predict Putin to keep the authority, but 20 percent expect Medvedev to emerge as the leader. At the same time, 47 percent of the polled want Putin to remain Russia’s president, viewing election as something inevitable.
Something inevitable indeed. Two weeks from now the inevitable will arrive, and after a few days of hooting and hollering, things in Russia will go back to normal. That is assuming the Kremlin clans will acclimate themselves to the new (old) order.
By Sean — 5 years ago
There are good ideas. There are bad ideas. Then there are really, really bad ideas. It seems that the Moscow city government might embrace the latter.
There are plans to spend 50 million rubles to erect several monuments around Moscow. So far the agreed restorations include statues to Lermontov, Chaplygin, and Shchusev. Also being considered are statues to Herzen, Ogarev, and a monument called the “First Komsomoltsy.” Also under consideration is to restore Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, to his pedestal on Lubyanka Square. According to the Russian press, some members of the Moscow city government think this is a grand idea.
“I think that it’s possible to restore [Dzerzhinsky] and put him back in place. But then it’s unclear why he was taken down in the first place. If they say that the money has been allocated [to return the statue], then it should be done,” says Andrei Metelskii, the vice-speaker of the Moscow city council and member of the city’s committee on culture and public relations. The proposal seems to also have the support of representatives from the LDPR, KPRF and United Russia deputy Vladimir Kolesnikov.
Unclear why Dzerzhinsky’s statute was removed in the first place? I can think of several thousand reasons. Most of them from mass graves from the Red Terror. Are Russian officials really that historically tone-deaf?
Many often assert that Putin’s Russia has restored the Soviet Union. I usually take such pronouncements as silly hyperbole. But is there any better symbol of Soviet revanche that returning Felix Edmundovich to his former stead?
By Sean — 5 years ago
My new article for Warscapes, “The Gendarme of Eurasia.” Here’s the opening excerpt:
In 1830, in response to the crowning of Louis-Philippe as king of France after revolution deposed Charles X, Russia’s Nicholas I wrote, “However, our allies, without agreeing beforehand with us on a step so important, so decisive, hastened…to crown insurrection and usurpation—a fatal, incomprehensible step to which must be attributed the series of misfortunes which has not since ceased plaguing Europe.” These words could have easily been spoken by Vladimir Putin about Kyiv. Shave off the literary flourish and exchange “allies” for “partners” and “Europe” for “Eurasia,” Nicholas I’s trepidation about revolution in nineteenth century Europe speaks to Putin’s alarm about the destabilizing nature of revolution in the twenty-first century. Putin’s pushback against his Western “partners’” fancy for revolution was on full display in his speech (here in English) before members of the Russian government. The speech wove together romantic, even volkish, Russian nationalism, anti-Westernism and Russian exceptionalism, and anti-revolution. A Gendarme of Eurasia has risen! But do the verbal epaulets of a gendarme make a different Putin? A Putin 3.0? I say rather than a new Putin, we’re seeing a crystallization of positions that have been apparent since he returned to the presidency in 2012.