Russia under Vladimir Putin
This article needs to be updated.March 2019)(
|Presidencies of Vladimir Putin|
United Russia (2008–12)
Independent (1991–2008; 2012–present)
|7 May 2000 (acting since 31 December 1999) – 7 May 2008|
|7 May 2012 – present|
Vladimir Putin has served three terms and is currently in a fourth as President of Russia (2000–2004, 2004–2008, 2012–2018 and May 2018 to present) and was Acting President from 1999 to 2000, succeeding Boris Yeltsin after Yeltsin's resignation. Putin was also Prime Minister for three months in 1999 and served a full term from 2008 to 2012. During Putin's presidency, he has been a member of the Unity party and the United Russia party. He is also affiliated with the People’s Front, a group of supporters that Putin organized in 2011 to help improve the public's perception of United Russia. His political ideology, priorities and policies are sometimes referred to as Putinism (Russian: путинизм).
Putin has enjoyed high domestic approval ratings and in 2007 was Time magazine's Person of the Year. In 2015, he was designated No. 1 in Time 100, Time magazine's list of the top 100 most influential people in the world. In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, he was designated No. 1 on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful People. The Russian economy and standard of living grew rapidly during the early period of Putin's regime, fueled largely by a boom in the oil industry. However, lower oil prices and sanctions for Russia's annexation of Crimea led to recession and stagnation in 2015 that has persisted into the present day. Political freedoms have been sharply curtailed, leading to widespread condemnation from human rights groups.
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The political system under Putin has been described as incorporating some elements of economic liberalism, a lack of transparency in governance, cronyism, nepotism and pervasive corruption. This view has been supported by many, but it has also been characterized as "a systemic and institutionalized form" by others, notably Boris Nemtsov. Between 1999 and 2008, the Russian economy grew at a steady pace, which some experts attribute to the sharp rouble devaluation of 1998, Boris Yeltsin-era structural reforms, rising oil prices and cheap credit from Western banks. In former Ambassador Michael McFaul's opinion (June 2004), Russia's "impressive" short-term economic growth "came simultaneously with the destruction of free media, threats to civil society and an unmitigated corruption of justice".
During Putin's first two terms as President, he signed into law a series of liberal economic reforms, such as the flat income tax of 13 percent, reduced profits-tax and new land and civil codes. Within this period, poverty in Russia reduced by more than half and real GDP has grown rapidly.
In foreign affairs, the Putin government seeks to emulate the former Soviet Union's grandeur, belligerence and expansionism. In November 2007, Simon Tisdall of The Guardian pointed out that "just as Russia once exported Marxist revolution, it may now be creating an international market for Putinism" as "more often than not, instinctively undemocratic, oligarchic and corrupt national elites find that an appearance of democracy, with parliamentary trappings and a pretense of pluralism, is much more attractive, and manageable, than the real thing".
In September 2007, American economist Richard W. Rahn called Putinism "a Russian nationalistic authoritarian form of government that pretends to be a free market democracy" and which "owes more of its lineage to fascism than communism", noting that "Putinism depended on the Russian economy growing rapidly enough that most people had rising standards of living and, in exchange, were willing to put up with the existing soft repression". He predicted that "as Russia's economic fortunes changed, Putinism was likely to become more repressive". After Rahn's remarks Putin took actions to lessen democracy, promote conservative beliefs and values; and silence opposition to his policies and administration.
Russian historian Andranik Migranyan saw the Putin regime as restoring what he viewed as the natural functions of a government after period of the 1990s, when oligopolies expressing only their own narrow interests allegedly ruled Russia. Migranyan said: "If democracy is the rule by a majority and the protection of the rights and opportunities of a minority, the current political regime can be described as democratic, at least formally. A multiparty political system exists in Russia, while several parties, most of them representing the opposition, have seats in the State Duma".
The terms "Putinism" and "Putinist" often have negative connotations when used in Western media to reference the Russian government under Putin where siloviki, the military-security establishment, allegedly control much of the political and financial power. Many siloviki are Putin's personal friends or previously worked with him in state security and intelligence agencies, such as the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the military.
Cassiday and Johnson argue that since taking power in 1999, "Putin has inspired expressions of adulation the likes of which Russia has not seen since the days of Stalin. Tributes to his achievements and personal attributes have flooded every possible media". Ross says the cult emerged quickly by 2002 and emphasizes Putin's "iron will, health, youth and decisiveness, tempered by popular support". Ross concludes: "The development of a Putin mini cult of personality was based on a formidable personality at its heart".
Putin's campaign program
The day before, a program article signed by Putin "Russia at the turn of the millennium" was published on the government web site. The potential head of the state expressed his views on the past and problems of the country. The first task in Putin's view was consolidation of Russia's society: "The fruitful and creative work, which our country needs so badly, is impossible in a divided and internally atomised society". However, the author stressed: "There should be no forced civil accord in a democratic Russia. Social accord can only be voluntary".
The author stressed the importance of strengthening the state: "The key to Russia’s recovery and growth today lies in the state-political sphere. Russia needs strong state power and must have it". Detailing on his view Putin emphasized: "Strong state power in Russia is a democratic, law-based, workable federal state".
Regarding the economic problems, Putin pointed out the need to significantly improve economic efficiency, the need of carrying out the coherent and result-based social policy aimed to battle the poverty and the need to provide the stable growth of people's well-being.
The article stated the importance of government support of science, education, culture, health care since "[a] country in which the people are not healthy physically and psychologically, are poorly educated and illiterate, will never rise to the peaks of world civilisation".
The article concluded with an alarmist statement that Russia was in the midst of one of the most difficult periods in its history: "For the first time in the past 200–300 years, it is facing the real threat of slipping down to the second, and possibly even third, rank of world states". To avoid that, there's a need of tremendous effort of all the intellectual, physical and moral forces of the nation because "[e]verything depends on us, and us alone, on our ability to recognise the scale of the threat, to unite and apply ourselves to lengthy and hard work".
As stated in the history course by Russian Doctors of History Barsenkov and Vdovin, the basic ideas of the article were represented in the election platform of Vladimir Putin and supported by the majority of country's citizens, leading to the victory of Vladimir Putin in the first round of the 2000 election, with 52 per cent of the votes cast.
The outline of Russia's foreign policy was presented by Vladimir Putin in his Address to Russia's Federal Assembly in April 2002: "We are building constructive, normal relations with all the world's nations—I want to emphasise, with all the world's nations. However, I want to note something else: the norm in the international community, in the world today, is also harsh competition—for markets, for investment, for political and economic influence. And in this fight, Russia needs to be strong and competitive". "I want to stress that Russian foreign policy will in the future be organized in a strictly pragmatic way, based on our capabilities and national interests: military and strategic, economic and political. And also taking into account the interests of our partners, above all in the CIS".
In his 2008 book, the Russian political commentator, the retired KGB lieutenant-general Nikolai Leonov, noted that Putin's program article was barely noticed then and never revisited later—a fact that Leonov regretted, because "its content is most important for contrasting against his [Putin's] subsequent actions" and thus figuring out Putin's pattern, under which "words, more often than not, do not match his actions".
According to Dr. Mark Smith (March 2003), some of the main features of Putin's regime were the development of a corporatist system by pursuing close ties with business organizations, social stability and co-optation of opposition parties. He determined three main groupings in Putin's early leadership: 1) the siloviki, 2) economic liberals and 3) supporters of "the Family", i.e. those who were close to Yeltsin.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, who carried out a sociological survey in 2004, put the relative number of siloviki in the Russian political elite at 25%. In Putin's "inner circle" which constitutes about 20 people, amount of siloviki rises to 58% and fades to 18–20% in parliament and 34% in the government. According to Kryshtanovskaya, there was no capture of power as Kremlin bureaucracy has called siloviks in order to "restore order". The process of siloviki coming into power has allegedly started since 1996, Boris Yeltsin's second term. "Not personally Yeltsin, but the whole elite wished to stop the revolutionary process and consolidate the power". When silovik Putin was appointed Prime Minister in 1999, the process boosted. According to Olga: "Yes, Putin has brought siloviks with him. But that's not enough to understand the situation. Here's also an objective aspect: the whole political class wished them to come. They were called for service... There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country".
Kryshtanovskaya noted that there were also people who had worked in structures believed to be affiliated with the KGB/FSB, such as the Soviet Union Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Governmental Communications Commission, Ministry of Foreign Trade, Press Agency News and others. The work per se in such agencies would not necessarily involve contacts with security services, but would make it likely. Summing up the numbers of official and affiliated siloviki, she came up with an estimate of 77% of such in the power.
According to a Russian Public Opinion Foundation 2005 investigation, 34% of respondents think "there is a lack of democracy in Russia because democratic rights and freedoms are not observed" and also point on the lack of law and order. In the same time, 21% of respondents are sure there's too much of democracy in Russia and many of them point on the same drawbacks as the previous group: "[T]he lack of law and order, irresponsibility and non-accountability of politicians". According to the Foundation: "As we can see, Russians' negative opinions about democracy are based on their dissatisfaction with contemporary conditions, while some respondents think the democratic model is not suitable in principal". Considering the modern regime: "It is interesting that most respondents think Putin's government marks the most democratic epoch in Russian history (29%), while second place goes to Brezhnev's times (14%). Some people mentioned Gorbachev and Yeltsin in this context (11% and 9%, respectively)".
At the end of 2008, Lev Gudkov, based on the Levada Center polling data, pointed out the near-disappearance of public opinion as a socio-political institution in Putin's Russia and its replacement with the still-efficacious state propaganda.
On 9 July 2000, while speaking to the Russian Parliament, Putin advocated an economy policy which would have introduced a flat tax rate of 13% and a reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 24 percent. Putin also intended for small businesses to get better treatment under this economic reform package. Under Putin, the old system which included high tax rates has been replaced with a new system where companies can choose either a 6 percent tax on gross revenue or a 15 percent tax on profits.
In February 2009, Putin called for a single VAT rate to be "as low as possible" (at the time it stood at an average rate of 18 percent), which could be reduced to between 12 percent and 13 percent. The overall tax burden was lower in Russia under Putin than in most European countries.
Rising living standards
In 2005, Putin launched National Priority Projects in the fields of health care, education, housing and agriculture. In his May 2006 annual speech, Putin proposed increasing maternity benefits and prenatal care for women. Putin was strident about the need to reform the judiciary considering the present federal judiciary "Sovietesque", wherein many of the judges hand down the same verdicts as they would under the old Soviet judiciary structure and preferring instead a judiciary that interpreted and implemented the code to the current situation. In 2005, responsibility for federal prisons was transferred from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Justice.
The most high-profile change within the national priority project frameworks was probably the 2006 across-the-board increase in wages in healthcare and education as well as the decision to modernise equipment in both sectors in 2006 and 2007.
In 2006, chief of Business Week's Moscow bureau Jason Bush commented on the condition of Russian middle class: "This group has grown from just 8 million in 2000 to 55 million today and now accounts for some 37% of the population, estimates Expert, a market research firm in Moscow. That's giving a lift to the mood in the country. The share of Russians who think life is 'not bad' has risen to 23% from just 7% in 1999, while those who find living conditions 'unacceptable' has dropped to 29% from 53%, according to a recent poll". However, "[n]ot everyone has shared in the prosperity. Far from it. The average Russian earns $330 a month, just 10% of the U.S. average. Only a third of households own a car, and many—particularly the elderly—have been left behind".
At the end of Putin's second term, Jonathan Steele has commented on Putin's legacy: "What, then, is Putin's legacy? Stability and growth, for starters. After the chaos of the 90s, highlighted by Yeltsin's attack on the Russian parliament with tanks in 1993 and the collapse of almost every bank in 1998, Putin has delivered political calm and a 7% annual rate of growth. Inequalities have increased and many of the new rich are grotesquely crass and cruel, but not all the Kremlin's vast revenues from oil and gas have gone into private pockets or are being hoarded in the government's "stabilisation fund". Enough has gone into modernising schools and hospitals so that people notice a difference. Overall living standards are up. The second Chechen war, the major blight on Putin's record, is almost over".
Corporatism and state intervention in economy
According to Dr Mark Smith (March 2003), Putin had developed a "corporatist system" in the sense that under him the Kremlin was interested in close ties with business organizations such as the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Delovaya Rossiya and the trade union federation (FNPR). This was a part of Putins attempts to involve broad sectors of society in the making and implementation of policy.
"There is a school of thought which says that a number of Putin's steps in the economy (notably the fate of Yukos) were signs of a shift toward a system normally described as state capitalism, where "the entirety of state-owned and controlled enterprises are run by and for the benefit of the cabal around Putin—a collection of former KGB colleagues, Saint Petersburg lawyers, and other political cronies", he said in his words.
According to Andrey Illarionov, advisor of Putin until 2005, Putin policies were a new socio-political order "distinct from any seen in our country before" as members of the Corporation of Intelligence Service Collaborators had taken over the entire body of state power, followed an omertà-like behavior code and were "given instruments conferring power upon others—membership "perks", such as the right to carry and use weapons". According to Illarionov, this "Corporation has seized key government agencies—the Tax Service, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Parliament, and the government-controlled mass media—which are now used to advance the interests of [Corporation] members. Through those agencies, every significant resource in the country—security/intelligence, political, economic, informational and financial—is being monopolized in the hands of Corporation members". Members of the Corporation formed an isolated caste and according to an anonymous former KGB general cited by The Economist, “[a] Chekist is a breed ... A good KGB heritage—a father or grandfather, say, who worked for the service—is highly valued by today's siloviki. Marriages between siloviki clans are also encouraged.
Jason Bush, chief of the Moscow bureau of the magazine Business Week has commented in December 2006 on troubling growth of government's role: "The Kremlin has taken control of some two dozen Russian companies since 2004 making them public property, including oil assets from Sibneft and Yukos, as well as banks, newspapers, and more. Despite his sporadic support for pro-market reforms, Putin has backed national champions such as energy concerns Gazprom and Rosneft. The private sector's share of output fell from 70% to 65% last year, while public owned companies now represent 38% of stock market capitalization, up from 22% a year ago".
On 20 September 2008 and when the late 2000s recession had started to hit the well-being of Russia's top tycoons, the Financial Times said that "Putinism was built on the understanding that if tycoons played by Kremlin rules they would prosper".
Although Russia's state intervention in the economy had been usually criticized in the West, a study by Bank of Finland's Institute for Economies in Transition (BOFIT) in 2008 showed that state intervention had had a positive impact on the corporate governance of many companies in Russia as the formal indications of the quality of corporate governance in Russia were higher in companies with state control or with a stake held by the government.
Other economic developments and assessments
In June 2008, a group of Finnish economists wrote that the 2000s had so far been an economic boon for Russia, with GDP rising about 7% a year and by the beginning of 2008 Russia had become one of the ten largest economies in the world.
In Putin's first term, many new economic reforms were implemented along the lines of the "Gref program". The multitude of reforms ranged from a flat income tax to bank reform, from land ownership to improvements in conditions for small businesses.
In 1998, over 60% of industrial turnover in Russia was based on barter and various monetary surrogates. The use of such alternatives to money now today fallen out of favour, which has boosted economic productivity significantly. Besides raising wages and consumption, Putin's government has received broad praise also for eliminating this problem.
In the opinion of the Finnish researchers, the most high-profile change within the national priority project frameworks was probably the 2006 across-the-board increase in wages in healthcare and education as well as the decision to modernise equipment in both sectors in 2006 and 2007.
The rise in the overall living standards further deepened Russia's social and geographical discrepancies. In July 2008, Edward Lucas of The Economist wrote: "The colossal bribe-collecting opportunities created by Putinism have heightened the divide between big cities (particularly Moscow) and the rest of the country".
In November 2008, the retired KGB lieutenant-general Nikolai Leonov, in assessing the overall results of Putin's economic policies for the period of 8 years, said that [w]ithin this period, there has only been one positive thing, if you leave aside the trivia. And that thing is the price of oil and natural gas". In the closing paragraphs of his 2008 book, the retired general said: "Behind the gilded facade of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, there lies a demolished country that, under the current characteristics of those in power, has no chance to restore itself as one of the developed states of the world".
On 29 November 2008, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of Russian Federation (the largest opposition group within Russia with its 13% of seats in the national Parliament), in his speech before the 13th Party Congress lamented that due to "heroic efforts" of the "Yeltsinites" the country has lost 5 out of the 22 million square kilometers of its "historical territory" and that Russia faces de-industrialization, de-population and mental debilitation. The ruling group has in his opinion no notable successes to boast of, no clear plan of action and is only focussed on staying in power at all costs.
To characterize the kind of state Putin had built in socio-economic terms, in early 2008 professor Marshall I. Goldman coined the term "petrostate" in Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia, where he inter alia argued that while Putin had followed the advice of economic advisers in implementing reforms such as a 13 percent flat tax and creating a stabilization fund to lessen inflationary pressure, his main personal contribution was the idea of creating "national champions" and the renationalization of major energy assets. In his June 2008 interview, Marshall Goldman said that in his opinion Putin had created a new class of oligarchs, whom some called "silogarchs", Russia having come in second in the Forbes magazine list of the world's billionaires after only the United States.
In December 2008, Anders Åslund pointed out that Putin’s chief project had been "to develop huge, unmanageable state-owned mastodons, considered “national champions”", which had "stalemated large parts of the economy through their inertia and corruption while impeding diversification".
Restoring functionality of government
The concept of "Putinism" was described in a positive sense by Russian political scientist Andranik Migranyan. According to Migranyan, Putin came into office when the worst regime was established: the economy was "totally decentralized" and "the state had lost central authority while the oligarchs robbed the country and controlled its power institutions". In two years, Putin has restored hierarchy of power, ending the omnipotence of regional elites as well as destroying political influence of "oligarchs and oligopolies in the federal center". Boris Yeltsin-era non-institutional center of power commonly called "The Family" was ruined, which according to Migranyan in turn undercut the positions of the actors such as Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, who had sought to privatize the Russian state "with all of its resources and institutions".
Migranyan said that Putin began establishing common rules of the game for all actors and started with an attempt to restore the role of the government as the institution expressing combined interests of the citizens and "capable of controlling the state’s financial, administrative and media resources". According to Migranyan: "Naturally, in line with Russian traditions, any attempt to increase the state’s role causes an intense repulsion on the part of the liberal intellectuals, not to mention a segment of the business community that is not interested in the strengthening of state power until all of the most attractive state property has been seized". Migranyan claimed that oligopolies' view of democracy was set on a premise of whether they were close to the center of power, rather than "objective characteristics and estimates of the situation in the country". Migranyan said "free" media, owned by e.g. Berezovsky and Gusinsky, were nothing similar to free media as understood by the West, but served their only economic and political interests while "all other politicians and analysts were denied the right to go on the air".
Migranyan sees enhancement of the role of the law enforcement agencies as a trial to set barriers against criminals, "particularly those in big business".
Migranyan sees in 2004 fruition of the social revolution initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, whose aims were to rebuild the social system, saying that "the absolute dominance of private ownership in Russia, recognized by all political forces today, has been the greatest achievement and result of this social revolution".
According to Migranyan, the major trouble of Russian democracy is inability of civil society to rule the state, underdevelopment of public interests. He sees that as the consequence of Yeltsin's era family-ruled state being unable to pursue "a favorable environment for mid-sized and small businesses". Migranyan sees modern Russia as democracy, at least formally. While "the state, having restored its effectiveness and control over its own resources, has become the largest corporation responsible for establishing the rules of the game". Migranyan wonders how much might this influence extend in future. In 2004, he saw two possibilities for the Putin regime: either transformation into a consolidated democracy, either bureaucratic authoritarianism. However, "if Russia is lagging behind the developed capitalist nations in regard to the consolidation of democracy, it is not the quality of democracy, but rather its amount and the balance between civil society and the state".
The report by Andrew C. Kuchins in November 2007 said that "Russia today is a hybrid regime that might best be termed “illiberal internationalism”, although neither word is fully accurate and requires considerable qualification. From being a weakly institutionalized, fragile, and in many ways distorted proto-democracy in the 1990s, Russia under Vladimir Putin has moved back in the direction of a highly centralized authoritarianism, which has characterized the state for most of its 1,000-year history. But it is an authoritarian state where the consent of the governed is essential. Given the experience of the 1990s and the Kremlin’s propaganda emphasizing this period as one of chaos, economic collapse, and international humiliation, the Russian people have no great enthusiasm for democracy and remain politically apathetic in light of the extraordinary economic recovery and improvement in lifestyles for so many over the last eight years. The emergent, highly centralized government, combined with a weak and submissive society, is the hallmark of traditional Russian paternalism".
In a 2007 interview with Der Spiegel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn commented on the Putin regime: "Putin has inherited plundered and downtrodden country with demoralized and grown poor majority of the population. And he took on its possible — to be noted, gradual, slow — recovering. These efforts were not right at the moment noticed, not speaking about being appreciated. And can you point on examples in history when measures for recovering strength of governmental management would be benevolently met from beyond the country?".
According to a 2007 article of Dimitri Simes published in Foreign Affairs: "With high energy prices, sound fiscal policies, and tamed oligarchs, the Putin regime no longer needs international loans or economic assistance and has no trouble attracting major foreign investment despite growing tension with Western governments. Within Russia, relative stability, prosperity, and a new sense of dignity have tempered popular disillusionment with growing state control and the heavy-handed manipulation of the political process".
BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall in her 2007 article and after describing the "scarred decade" of the 1990s with "rampant hyperinflation" harsh Yeltsin's policies, population decrease rate like that for a nation in a war, the country turning "from superpower into beggar", wonders: "So who can blame Russians for welcoming the relative stability Putin has presided over during the past seven years, even if other aspects of his rule have cast an authoritarian shadow? In the back-to-front world of Russian politics, it is not too little democracy that many people fear, but too much of it. This, I discovered, is why some are calling for Putin to stay on for a third term. Not because they admire him—privately, many say that he and his cronies are just as corrupt and disdainful of others as their communist predecessors were—but because they mistrust the idea of democracy, resent the West for pushing it, and fear what might happen as a result of next year's elections. Recent experience has taught them that change is usually for the worse and best avoided".
In June 2000, Putin's decree was approved by the "Concept of the Russian Federation's foreign policy". According to this document, the main objectives of foreign policy are the following:
- Ensuring reliable security of the country.
- The impact of global processes in order to create a stable, just and democratic world order.
- The creation of favorable external conditions for the onward development of Russian.
- Formation of the Neighbourhood zone around the perimeter of the Russian borders.
- Search agreement and coinciding interests with foreign countries and international associations in the process of solving problems, Russia's national priorities.
- Protecting the rights and interests of Russian citizens and compatriots abroad.
- Promote a positive perception of the Russian Federation in the world.
In a 2010 article in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung dedicated to the participation in the annual economic forum, it was proposed to create a European economic alliance stretching from Vladivostok to Lisbon. As steps towards the creation of the alliance indicates a possible unification of customs tariffs and technical regulations, the abolition of the visa regime with the European Union.
In August 2013, according to experts the Russian-American relations have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War era. The September President Barack Obama's visit to Moscow and his talks with Putin were canceled due to temporary asylum in Russia, a former employee of the CIA Edward Snowden, disagreements on the situation in Syria and the problems with human rights in Russia.
On 11 September 2013, The New York Times published an article by Putin, "Russia calls for caution". It is written in the form of an open letter to the American people, containing an explanation of the Russian political line against the Syrian conflict. It is also the Russian president warns against President Obama's thesis "About the exclusivity of the American nation". The article caused a mixed reaction of the world community.
In September 2015, Putin spoke at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York Cityfor the first time in 10 years. In his speech, he urged the formation of a broad anti-terrorist coalition to combat ISIS and blamed the events in Ukraine on "external forces", warned the West against unilateral sanctions, attempts to push Russia from the world market and export of color revolutions. For the first time, he also held a meeting with President Obama to discuss the situation in Syria and Ukraine, but in the outcome of the negotiations and despite the persistence of deep contradictions the experts saw a faint hope for a compromise and the warming of relations between the two countries.
Authoritarian bureaucratic state
Russian politician Boris Nemtsov and commentator Kara-Murza define Putinism in Russia as "a one party system, censorship, a puppet parliament, ending of an independent judiciary, firm centralization of power and finances, and hypertrophied role of special services and bureaucracy, in particular in relation to business".
Russia's nascent middle class showed few signs of political activism under the regime as Masha Lipman reported: "As with the majority overall, those in the middle-income group have accepted the paternalism of Vladimir Putin's government and remained apolitical and apathetic".
In December 2007, the Russian sociologist Igor Eidman (VCIOM) categorized the Putin regime as "the power of bureaucratic oligarchy" which had "the traits of extreme right-wing dictatorship — the dominance of state-monopoly capital in the economy, silovoki structures in governance, clericalism and statism in ideology".
In August 2008, The Economist wrote about the virtual demise of both Russian and Soviet intelligentsia in post-Soviet Russia and noted: "Putinism was made strong by the absence of resistance from the part of society that was meant to provide intellectual opposition".
In early February 2009, Aleksander Auzan, an economist and board member at a research institute set up by Dmitry Medvedev, said that in the Putin system "there is not a relationship between the authorities and the people through Parliament or through nonprofit organizations or other structures. The relationship to the people is basically through television. And under the conditions of the crisis, that can no longer work".
About the same time, Vladimir Ryzhkov pointed out that a bill Medvedev had sent to the State Duma in late January 2009, when signed into law, will allow Kremlin-friendly regional legislatures to remove opposition mayors who were elected by popular vote: "It is no coincidence that Medvedev has taken aim at the country's mayors. Mayoral elections were the last bastion of direct elections after the Duma cancelled the popular vote for governors in 2005. Independent mayors were the only source of political competition against governors who were loyal to the Kremlin and United Russia. Now one of the few remaining checks and balances against the monopoly on executive power in the regions will be removed. After the law is signed by Medvedev, the power vertical will be extended one step further to reach every mayor in the country".
Rehabilitation of the Tsarist imperial and of the Soviet past of Russia
Tsarist Imperial Russia
It is claimed that Putin models himself on the Tsar Peter the Great, whose reign is reminiscent of a Russian imperial greatness which the Kremlin is keen to promote. A presidential commission asked Putin in 2003 to grant the request of one of Nicholas II's last surviving relatives to rehabilitate the House of Romanov. Willing to regain the imperial grandeur of Russia, Putin invited the Romanov imperial family to return to Russia in July 2015. According to the presidential commission, this move would represent a significant final step in Russia's journey to embrace its imperial history.
An alliance has been forged between the Church and the Kremlin since Putin became President of the Russian Federation. An adherent of the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin has allowed the regaining by the Orthodox Church of much of the importance that the Church had enjoyed in the Russian Empire and has won the enthusiastic support of its religious leaders.
The first politically controversial step made by Putin, then the FSB Director, was restoring in June 1999 a memorial plaque to Yuri Andropov on the facade of the building, where the KGB had been headquartered.
In late 2000, Putin submitted a bill to the State Duma to use the Soviet anthem as Russia's national anthem. The Duma voted in favor. The music remained identical, but new lyrics were written.
In September 2003, Putin was quoted as saying: "The Soviet Union is a very complicated page in the history of our peoples. It was heroic and constructive, and it was also tragic. But it is a page that has been turned. It's over, the boat has sailed. Now we need to think about the present and the future of our peoples".
In February 2004, Putin said: "It is my deep conviction that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a national tragedy on a massive scale. I think the ordinary citizens of the former Soviet Union and the citizens in the post-Soviet space, the CIS countries, have gained nothing from it. On the contrary, people have been faced with a host of problems." He went on to say, "Incidentally, at that period, too, opinions varied, including among the leaders of the Union republics. For example, Nursultan Nazarbayev was categorically opposed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and he said so openly proposing various formulas for preserving the state within the common borders. But, I repeat, all that is in the past. Today we should look at the situation in which we live. One cannot keep looking back and fretting about it: we should look forward".
In April 2005, during his formal address to Russia's Parliament, President Putin said: "Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself".
In December 2007, Putin said in the interview to the Time magazine: "Russia is an ancient country with historical, profound traditions and a very powerful moral foundation. And this foundation is a love for the Motherland and patriotism. Patriotism in the best sense of that word. Incidentally, I think that to a certain extent, to a significant extent, this is also attributable to the American people".
In August 2008, The Economist claimed: "Russia today is ruled by the KGB elite, has a Soviet anthem, servile media, corrupt courts and a rubber-stamping parliament. A new history textbook proclaims that the Soviet Union, although not a democracy, was 'an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society'".
In November 2008, International Herald Tribune stated:
The Kremlin in the Putin era has often sought to maintain as much sway over the portrayal of history as over the governance of the country. In seeking to restore Russia's standing, Putin and other officials have stoked a nationalism that glorifies Soviet triumphs while playing down or even whitewashing the system's horrors. As a result, throughout Russia, many archives detailing killings, persecution and other such acts committed by the Soviet authorities have become increasingly off-limits. The role of the security services seems especially delicate, perhaps because Putin is a former KGB agent who headed the agency's successor, the FSB, in the late 1990s.
Putin has said that Joseph Stalin's legacy cannot be judged in black and white in 2009. Although Putin's policies have been likened to the Soviet era, he has received a lukewarm response by Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). On the other hand, Roger Boyes considers him more of a latter-day Brezhnev than a clone of Stalin.
State-sponsored global public relations effort
Shortly after the Beslan terror act in September 2004, Putin enhanced a Kremlin-sponsored program aimed at "improving Russia's image" abroad. According to an unnamed former Duma deputy, there existed a classified article in the RF federal budget that provided for financing measures to this purpose.
One of the major projects of the program was the creation in 2005 of Russia Today—a rolling English-language TV news channel providing 24-hour news coverage, modeled on CNN. Towards its start-up budget, $30 million of public funds were allocated. A CBS News story on the launch of Russia Today quoted Boris Kagarlitsky as saying it was "very much a continuation of the old Soviet propaganda services". In 2007, Russia Today employed nearly 100 English-speaking special correspondents worldwide.
Russia's deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin said in August 2008 in the context of the Russia-Georgia conflict: "Western media is a well-organized machine, which is showing only those pictures that fit in well with their thoughts. We find it very difficult to squeeze our opinion into the pages of their newspapers". Similar views were expressed by some Western commentators.
William Dunbar, who was reporting then for Russia Today from Georgia, said he had not been on air since he mentioned Russian bombing of targets inside Georgia on 9 August 2008 and had to resign over what he claimed was biased coverage by the outlet.
The public relations efforts notwithstanding, according to an opinion poll released in February 2009 by the BBC World Service, Russia's image around the world had taken a dramatic dive in 2008: forty-two percent of respondents said they had a "mainly negative" view of Russia, according to the poll, which surveyed more than 13,000 people in 21 countries in December and January.
In June 2007, Vedomosti reported that the Kremlin had been intensifying its official lobbying activities in the United States since 2003, among other things hiring such companies as Hannaford Enterprises and Ketchum.
Paramount leadership or tandemocracy?
The 2008 power-switching operation between Putin and Medvedev was widely seen as a pro forma action after the constitution did not allow Putin to be reelected for a third term in the 2008 presidential election. Both scholars and the Russian population disagree on whether the "Putin-Medvedev tandemocracy" represented the paramount leadership of Putin, with Medvedev being just a mascot, or if the power was shared.
In June 2001, the BBC noted that a year after Putin took office, the Russian media had been reflecting on what some saw as a growing personality cult around him: Russia's TV-6 television had shown a vast choice of portraits of Putin on sale at a shopping mall in an underground passage near Moscow's Park of Culture.
In October 2007, some scenes at the United Russia congress caused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who was allied to Russia within the "Union State", to recall the Soviet times, complete with the official adoration towards the Communist Party leader and talking to Russia's regional press representatives he said that in Russia Putin's personality cult was being created.
In 2008, the Paris-based AFP reported that ahead of the December parliamentary and March presidential elections, in which despite being required by the constitution to leave office, Putin was widely expected to find some way to retain power as his personality cult was gathering pace.
After Medvedev was elected President in March 2008, United States government-funded Radio Liberty reported that during his eight-year presidency Putin had managed to build a personality cult around himself similar to those created by Soviet leaders. Although there had not been giant statues of Putin put up across the country (like those of Stalin before), he had the honor of being the only Russian leader to have had a pop song written about him: "I want a man like Putin", which hit the charts in 2002.
Shortly after becoming Russian Prime Minister, Putin was reported to have joked to a group of his KGB associates: "A group of FSB colleagues dispatched to work undercover in the government has successfully completed its first mission".
The former Securitate Lieutenant General and defector Ion Mihai Pacepa said in his interview for conservative FrontPage Magazine in 2006 that "former KGB officers are running" Russia and that FSB, which he called "the KGB successor" had the right to monitor the population electronically, control political process, search private property, cooperate with employees of the federal government, create front enterprises, investigate cases and run its own prisons.
Various 2006 estimates showed that Russia had above 200,000 members of the FSB, or one FSB employee for every 700 citizens of Russia (the exact number of the overall FSB staff is classified). The Russian Armed Forces General Staff as well as its subordinate structures, such as the Russian Strategic Missile Troops headquarters, are not submitted to the Federal Security Service, but the FSB might be interested in monitoring such structures as they intrinsically involve state secrets and various degrees of admittance to them. The Law on Federal Security Service which defines its functions and establishes its structure does not involve such tasks as managing strategic branches of national industry, controlling political groups, or infiltrating the federal government.
In 2006, political scientist Julie Anderson wrote: "Under Russian Federation President and former career foreign intelligence officer Vladimir Putin, an 'FSB State' composed of chekists has been established and is consolidating its hold on the country. Its closest partners are organized criminals. In a world marked by a globalized economy and information infrastructure, and with transnational terrorism groups utilizing all available means to achieve their goals and further their interests, Russian intelligence collaboration with these elements is potentially disastrous".
Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky compared the takeover of the Russian state by the siloviki to an imaginary scenario of the Gestapo coming to power in Germany after World War II. He pointed out a fundamental difference between the secret police and ordinary political parties, even totalitarian ones, such as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russia's secret police organizations are wont to employ the so-called active measures and extrajudicial killings, hence they killed Alexander Litvinenko and directed Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts in Russia to frighten the civilian population and achieve their political objectives, according to Felstinsky.
In April 2006, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle East specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), presented a list of those who had "mysteriously" died during Putin's presidency and wrote: "Vladimir Putin's Russia is a new phenomenon in Europe: a state defined and dominated by former and active-duty security and intelligence officers. Not even fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union – all undoubtedly much worse creations than Russia – were as top-heavy with intelligence talent. [...] There is no historical precedent for a society so dominated by former and active-duty internal-security and intelligence officials – men who rose up in a professional culture in which murder could be an acceptable, even obligatory, business practice. [...] Those who operated within the Soviet sphere were the most malevolent in their practices. These men mentored and shaped Putin and his closest friends and allies. It is therefore unsurprising that Putin's Russia has become an assassination-happy state where detention, interrogation, and torture – all tried and true methods of the Soviet KGB – are used to silence the voices of untoward journalists and businessmen who annoy or threaten Putin's FSB state".
One of the leading members of Putin's ruling elite, Nikolai Patrushev, Director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (August 1999–May 2008) and subsequently Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, was known for his propagation of the idea of "chekists" as "neo-aristocrats" (Russian: неодворяне).
A report by Andrew C. Kuchins in November 2007 said: "The predominance of the intelligence services and mentality is a core feature of Putin’s Russia that marks a major and critical discontinuity from not only the 1990s but all of Soviet and Russian history. During the Soviet period, the Communist Party provided the glue holding the system together. During the 1990s, there was no central organizing institution or ideology. Now, with Putin, it is “former” KGB professionals who dominate the Russian ruling elite. This is a special kind of brotherhood, a mafia-like culture in which only a few can be trusted. The working culture is secretive and nontransparent".
Cronyism and corruption
In 2000, Russia's political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky called Putinism "the highest and culminating stage of bandit capitalism in Russia". He said that "Russia is not corrupt. Corruption is what happens in all countries when businessmen offer officials large bribes for favors. Today’s Russia is unique. The businessmen, the politicians, and the bureaucrats are the same people. They have privatized the country’s wealth and taken control of its financial flows". According to scholar Karen Dawisha, 110 of Putin's cronies control 35% of Russia's wealth.
In concluding her book A Russian Diary (2007), the Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya said: "Our state authorities today are only interested in making money. That is literally all they are interested in".
Such views were shared by politologist Julie Anderson who said the same person can be a Russian intelligence officer, an organized criminal and a businessman, who quoted the former CIA Director James Woolsey as saying: "I have been particularly concerned for some years, beginning during my tenure, with the interpenetration of Russian organized crime, Russian intelligence and law enforcement, and Russian business. I have often illustrated this point with the following hypothetical: If you should chance to strike up a conversation with an articulate, English-speaking Russian in, say, the restaurant of one of the luxury hotels along Lake Geneva, and he is wearing a $3,000 suit and a pair of Gucci loafers, and he tells you that he is an executive of a Russian trading company and wants to talk to you about a joint venture, then there are four possibilities. He may be what he says he is. He may be a Russian intelligence officer working under commercial cover. He may be part of a Russian organized crime group. But the really interesting possibility is that he may be all three and that none of those three institutions have any problem with the arrangement".
In April 2006, Putin himself expressed extreme irritation about the de facto privatization of the customs sphere, where smart officials and entrepreneurs "merged in ecstasy".
According to the estimates published in "Putin and Gazprom" by Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov, Putin and his friends pilfered assets of $80 billion from Gazprom during his second term as president.
On 29 February 2009, Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev claimed that Prime Minister Putin's strategy for economic recovery was based on cronyism and was fueling corruption and also said: "We have two Putins. There are lots of words, but the system doesn't work".
The Panama Papers revealed a network of secret offshore deals and vast loans worth $2bn (£1.4bn) that seem to lay a trail to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The transactions include fake share deals; multimillion-dollar charges for vague "consultancy" services; and repeated payments of large sums in "compensation" for allegedly cancelled share deals and a $200m loan for $1. Though his name does not appear in any of the records, the data shows how deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage made members of his close circle fabulously wealthy.
Political scientist Irina Pavlova said that chekists were not merely a corporation of people united to expropriate financial assets as they had long-standing political objectives of transforming Moscow to the Third Rome and an ideology of "containing" the United States. Columnist George Will emphasized in 2003 the nationalistic nature of Putinism: "Putinism is becoming a toxic brew of nationalism directed against neighboring nations, and populist envy, backed by assaults of state power, directed against private wealth. Putinism is a form of national socialism without the demonic element of its pioneer". According to Illarionov, the ideology of chekists is nashism ("ours-ism"), the selective application of rights.
According to Dmitri Trenin (2004), Head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, the then Russia was one of the least ideological countries around the world: "Ideas hardly matter, whereas interests reign supreme. It is not surprising then that the worldview of Russian elites is focused on financial interests. Their practical deeds in fact declare In capital we trust". Trenin described Russia's elite involved in the process of policy-making as people who largely owned the country. Most of them were not public politicians, but the majority were bureaucratic capitalists. According to Trenin, "having survived in a ruthless domestic business and political environment, Russian leaders are well adjusted to rough competition and will take that mindset to the world stage". However, Trenin called Russian-Western relations, from Moscow's perspective, "competitive, but not antagonistic". He said that "Russia does not crave world domination, and its leaders do not dream of restoring the Soviet Union. They plan to rebuild Russia as a great power with a global reach, organized as a supercorporation".
According to Trenin, Russians "no longer recognize U.S. or European moral authority". He said that "from the Russian perspective, there is no absolute freedom anywhere in the world, no perfect democracy, and no government that does not lie to its people. In essence, all are equal by virtue of sharing the same imperfections. Some are more powerful than others, however, and that is what really counts".
Accusations of neo-Stalinism
In May 2000, The Guardian wrote: "When a band of former Soviet dissidents declared in February that Putinism was nothing short of modernised Stalinism, they were widely dismissed as hysterical prophets of doom. 'Authoritarianism is growing harsher, society is being militarised, the military budget is increasing,' they warned, before calling on the West to 're-examine its attitude towards the Kremlin leadership, to cease indulging it in its barbaric actions, its dismantlement of democracy and suppression of human rights.' In the light of Putin's actions during his first days in power, their warnings have gained an uneasy new resonance".
In February 2007, Arnold Beichman, a conservative research fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote in The Washington Times that "Putinism in the 21st century has become as significant a watchword as Stalinism was in the 20th".
Also in 2007, Lionel Beehner, formerly a senior writer for the Council on Foreign Relations, maintained that on Putin's watch nostalgia for Stalin had grown even among young Russians and Russians' neo-Stalinism manifesting itself in several ways.
In February 2007, responding to a listener's assertion that "Putin had steered the country to Stalinism" and "all entrepreneurs" were being jailed in Russia, the Russian opposition radio host Yevgeniya Albats said: "Come on, this is not true; there is no Stalinism, no concentration camps—thankfully". She went on to say that if citizens of the country would not be critical of what was occurring around them, referring to the "orchestrated, or genuine" calls for the "tsar to stay on", that "could blaze the trail for very ugly things and a very tough regime in our country".
Putin has said that Stalin's legacy cannot be judged in black and white in 2009. Although Putin's policies have been likened to the Soviet era, he has received a lukewarm response by Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF). Roger Boyes considers Putin more of a latter-day Leonid Brezhnev than a clone of Stalin.
Putin’s Ideology as State First
While some might argue that Putin’s leadership does not reflect an ideology, Chris Miller has discerned three beliefs which are consistent with Putin’s announcements and account for his actions. This 3-part ideology must be understood in the context of the history of Russia and of Putin himself. When Putin began his political career, the Soviet Union was unable to effectively collect taxes or provide services, in part, due to inadequate governmental control of the empire. Putin believed that the government needed to first establish strong centralized control of the empire. To maintain that central control has always been his highest priority. Second, to keep the populace supportive of his government and thus to prevent revolt, Putin believes that the key is rising wages and pensions. In that way, he maintains enough of a popular base that the populace tends to tolerate other problems. Third, economic progress depends heavily on private enterprises but only so long as those enterprises do not interfere with either central government control or rising salaries and pensions. When a private enterprise threatens either belief one or two, then the government takes control of the enterprise so that the enterprise supports beliefs one and two. Of course, these three beliefs are not followed without some compromises, but Miller well argues that these beliefs help explain the behavior of Putin.
- Mafia state
- Recovery and growth of the Russian economy (1999–2008)
- Russian oligarchs
- Russian opposition
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Few in the outside world were enthused in an election that was stage-managed through the constructs of electoral machinery that thrived on exclusivism and partisan majoritarianism, to make sure that former President Putin's hand-picked successor was elected. And, it was. Medvedev was a vehicle for institutionalizing Putinism – a draconian authoritarianism and xenophobic foreign policy – in Russia. It worked for Putin. And, the question became: Who will be calling the shots after Putin engineered his way back to behind-the-scene power, when he took the position of the prime minister?.
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