Monday, September 26, 2011

Putin, Autocracy and Assassination

Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin has not been a notably successful leader of Russia. He made a significant strategic mistake in making the production of oil and gas the priority for his country. The result was a higher Rouble, which squeezed Russian industry and finance, and undermined the rest of the real economy: the economy where most Russians have jobs.

Faced with a large number isolated of one company towns, instead of promoting entrepreneurship and trying to diversify their industrial base, he has simply subsidized the zombie company- it saved jobs in the short term, at the expense of undermining Russian competitiveness. Instead of trying to relieve isolation by investing in infrastructure, the Russian infrastructure has largely been left to rot. Dangerous nuclear stations, such as Sosnovij Bor on the Gulf of Finland, continue in operation, despite the very real threat it poses to the very existence of the City of St. Petersburg.  Roads and rail receive inadequate attention; aviation in Russia continues to have a lamentable safety record- with the tragic deaths of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Hockey team only the latest in a series of horrific accidents.

His economic record as President or Prime Minister is at best so-so. His political record is unrelentingly bleak. Since assuming power, he has ruthlessly eliminated his political enemies. He has shut out all but his own hand picked cadre of like minded autocrats. A monstrously corrupt group of former security service officers dominates decision making. Freedom of assembly has been severely curtailed, so that no one may create a political force that can challenge the dominant elite.  There is overwhelming evidence that he has manipulated violence in the North Caucasus for his own political advantage- leading to deaths of thousands of Russian servicemen and many more Chechens. He has picked a war with Georgia in order to try to dismember that country. There is significant evidence that Russia has bribed major Western politicians and sought to subvert democracy in several other countries.

Any objective observer would agree that Mr. Putin has a controversial record - it is a record that deserves significant scrutiny and challenge. Yet this scrutiny and challenge is precisely what the Russian people will not be allowed to undertake. The selection of Mr. Putin as a candidate for the Presidency condemns Russia to perhaps another two Presidential terms of corruption, incompetence, brutality and increasing stagnation. He has obeyed the letter of the constitution while totally subverting its original democratic intentions. By returning directly to the Presidency after only one term, he has indicated that he will never leave office willingly. His idea of a "United Russia"  is one which ignores pluralism, reviles diversity, crushes dissent. Yet he is creating a pressure cooker that could lead to a profoundly unstable country. 

Mr. Putin is said to have expressed the wish to restore Russia to the glory of the Tsarist times, but as I have mentioned before, a good definition of Tsarism was "Autocracy- mitigated by assassination".

The return of Putin to the Presidency sets the seal on the end of Russian democracy, yet it  may also mark the eventual end of Mr. Putin.

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