A Tsar Is Born - 2007

They loved Gorbachev because he killed the Bear. They adored Yeltsin because he allowed them to feed on the carcass of the Bear. They now hate and fear Putin because he resurrected the Bear!

Arevordi

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A Tsar Is Born

Time magazine has chosen Putin its "Person of the Year": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2UPgXhrJfQ
TIME's Interview with Vladimir Putin: http://www.time.com/time/specials/20...691291,00.html

An interesting exchange from the beginning of the Time Magazine interview:

Adi Ignatius: "We began by asking him [Putin] why the Russian election was not more open and why opposition leader and former chess champion Gary Kasparov was arrested."

Vladimir Putin: "Well, what do you think? Why did Mr. Kasparov, when arrested, speak English rather than Russian? Think about it... Before everything, the whole thrust of this thing was directed towards other countries rather than the Russian people. And when a person works the crowds of another nation rather than the Russian nation it tell you something..."

2007

No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin's. The Russian President's pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an affect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The affect is now seamless, which makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but often chilling. It's a gaze that says, I'm in charge. This may explain why there is so little visible security at Putin's dacha, Novo-Ogarevo, the grand Russian presidential retreat set inside a birch- and fir-forested compound west of Moscow. To get there from the capital requires a 25-minute drive through the soul of modern Russia, past decrepit Soviet-era apartment blocks, the mashed-up French Tudor-villa McMansions of the new oligarchs and a shopping mall that boasts not just the routine spoils of affluence like Prada and Gucci but Lamborghinis and Ferraris too.

When you arrive at the dacha's faux-neoclassical gate, you have to leave your car and hop into one of the Kremlin's vehicles that slowly wind their way through a silent forest of snow-tipped firs. Aides warn you not to stray, lest you tempt the snipers positioned in the shadows around the compound. This is where Putin, 55, works. (He lives with his wife and two twentysomething daughters in another mansion deeper in the woods.) The rooms feel vast, newly redone and mostly empty. As we prepare to enter his spacious but spartan office, out walk some of Russia's most powerful men: Putin's chief of staff, his ideologist, the speaker of parliament—all of them wearing expensive bespoke suits and carrying sleek black briefcases. Putin, who rarely meets with the foreign press, then gives us 3 1⁄2 hours of his time, first in a formal interview in his office and then upstairs over an elaborate dinner of lobster-and-shiitake-mushroom salad, "crab fingers with hot sauce" and impressive vintages of Puligny-Montrachet and a Chilean Cabernet.

Vladimir Putin gives a first impression of contained power: he is compact and moves stiffly but efficiently. He is fit, thanks to years spent honing his black-belt judo skills and, these days, early-morning swims of an hour or more. And while he is diminutive—5 ft. 6 in. (about 1.7 m) seems a reasonable guess—he projects steely confidence and strength. Putin is unmistakably Russian, with chiseled facial features and those penetrating eyes. Charm is not part of his presentation of self—he makes no effort to be ingratiating. One senses that he pays constant obeisance to a determined inner discipline. The successor to the boozy and ultimately tragic Boris Yeltsin, Putin is temperate, sipping his wine only when the protocol of toasts and greetings requires it; mostly he just twirls the Montrachet in his glass. He eats little, though he twitchily picks the crusts off the bread rolls on his plate.

Putin grudgingly reveals a few personal details between intermittent bites of food: He relaxes, he says, by listening to classical composers like Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. His favorite Beatles song is Yesterday. He has never sent an e-mail in his life. And while he grew up in an officially atheist country, he is a believer and often reads from a Bible that he keeps on his state plane. He is impatient to the point of rudeness with small talk, and he is in complete control of his own message. He is clear about Russia's role in the world. He is passionate in his belief that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy, particularly since overnight it stranded 25 million ethnic Russians in "foreign" lands. But he says he has no intention of trying to rebuild the U.S.S.R. or re-establish military or political blocs. And he praises his predecessors Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev for destroying a system that had lost the people's support. "I'm not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself," he tells us. Putin is, above all, a pragmatist, and has cobbled together a system—not unlike China's—that embraces the free market (albeit with a heavy dose of corruption) but relies on a strong state hand to keep order.

Like President George W. Bush, he sees terrorism as one of the most profound threats of the new century, but he is wary of labeling it Islamic. "Radicals," he says, "can be found in any environment." Putin reveals that Russian intelligence recently uncovered a "specific" terrorist threat against both Russia and the U.S. and that he spoke by phone with Bush about it. What gets Putin agitated—and he was frequently agitated during our talk—is his perception that Americans are out to interfere in Russia's affairs. He says he wants Russia and America to be partners but feels the U.S. treats Russia like the uninvited guest at a party. "We want to be a friend of America," he says. "Sometimes we get the impression that America does not need friends" but only "auxiliary subjects to command." Asked if he'd like to correct any American misconceptions about Russia, Putin leans forward and says, "I don't believe these are misconceptions. I think this is a purposeful attempt by some to create an image of Russia based on which one could influence our internal and foreign policies. This is the reason why everybody is made to believe...[Russians] are a little bit savage still or they just climbed down from the trees, you know, and probably need to have...the dirt washed out of their beards and hair." The veins on his forehead seem ready to pop.

Elected Emperor

Putin has said that next spring, at the end of his second term as President, he will assume the nominally lesser role of Prime Minister. In fact, having nominated his loyal former chief of staff (and current Deputy Prime Minister) Dmitri Medvedev to succeed him as President, Putin will surely remain the supreme leader, master of Russia's destiny, which will allow him to complete the job he started. In his eight years as President, he has guided his nation through a remarkable transformation. He has restored stability and a sense of pride among citizens who, after years of Soviet stagnation, rode the heartbreaking roller coaster of raised and dashed expectations when Gorbachev and then Yeltsin were in charge. A basket case in the 1990s, Russia's economy has grown an average of 7% a year for the past five years. The country has paid off a foreign debt that once neared $200 billion. Russia's rich have gotten richer, often obscenely so. But the poor are doing better too: workers' salaries have more than doubled since 2003. True, this is partly a result of oil at $90 a barrel, and oil is a commodity Russia has in large supply. But Putin has deftly managed the windfall and spread the wealth enough so that people feel hopeful.

Russia's revival is changing the course of the modern world. After decades of slumbering underachievement, the Bear is back. Its billionaires now play on the global stage, buying up property, sports franchises, places at élite schools. Moscow exerts international influence not just with arms but also with a new arsenal of weapons: oil, gas, timber. On global issues, it offers alternatives to America's waning influence, helping broker deals in North Korea, the Middle East, Iran. Russia just made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran—a sign that Russia is taking the lead on that vexsome issue, particularly after the latest U.S. intelligence report suggested that the Bush Administration has been wrong about Iran's nuclear-weapons development. And Putin is far from done. The premiership is a perch that will allow him to become the longest-serving statesman among the great powers, long after such leaders as Bush and Tony Blair have faded from the scene.

But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin's hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain—of freedom for security—appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes' promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin's popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. "He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great," says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

Putin's global ambitions seem straightforward. He certainly wants a seat at the table on the big international issues. But more important, he wants free rein inside Russia, without foreign interference, to run the political system as he sees fit, to use whatever force he needs to quiet seething outlying republics, to exert influence over Russia's former Soviet neighbors. What he's given up is Yeltsin's calculation that Russia's future requires broad acceptance on the West's terms. That means that on big global issues, says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former point man on Russia policy for the Clinton Administration, "sometimes Russia will be helpful to Western interests, and sometimes it will be the spoiler."

Up from the Ruins

How do Russians see Putin? For generations they have defined their leaders through political jokes. It's partly a coping mechanism, partly a glimpse into the Russian soul. In the oft told anecdotes, Leonid Brezhnev was always the dolt, Gorbachev the bumbling reformer, Yeltsin the drunk. Putin, in current punch lines, is the despot. Here's an example: Stalin's ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for him help running the country. Stalin says, "Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue." "Why blue?" Putin asks. "Ha!" says Stalin. "I knew you wouldn't ask me about the first part." Putin himself is sardonic but humorless. In our hours together, he didn't attempt a joke, and he misread several of our attempts at playfulness. As Henry Kissinger, who has met and interacted with Russian leaders since Brezhnev, puts it, "He does not rely on personal charm. It is a combination of aloofness, considerable intelligence, strategic grasp and Russian nationalism" (see Kissinger interview).

To fully understand Putin's accomplishments and his appeal, one has to step back into the tumult of the 1990s. At the end of 1991, just a few months after Yeltsin dramatically stood on a tank outside the parliament in Moscow to denounce—and deflate—a coup attempt by hard-liners, the Soviet Union simply ceased to exist. Yeltsin took the reins in Russia and, amid great hope and pledges of help from around the world, promised to launch an era of democracy and economic freedom. I arrived in Moscow a week later, beginning a three-year stint as a Russia correspondent. I retain three indelible images from that time. The first: the legions of Ivy League—and other Western-educated "experts" who roamed the halls of the Kremlin and the government, offering advice, all ultimately ineffective, on everything from conducting free elections to using "shock therapy" to juice the economy to privatizing state-owned assets. The second: the long lines of impoverished old women standing in the Moscow cold, selling whatever they could scrounge from their homes—a silver candleholder, perhaps, or just a pair of socks. The third, more familiar image: a discouraged and embattled Yeltsin in 1993 calling in Russian-army tanks to shell his own parliament to break a deadlock with the defiant legislature when everything he was trying to do was going wrong.

Yeltsin bombed his way out of the threat of civil war and managed to hang on to power, but Russia was left hobbled. Virtually every significant asset—oil, banks, the media—ended up in the hands of a few "oligarchs" close to the President. Corruption and crime were rampant; the cities became violent. Paychecks weren't issued; pensions were ignored. Russia in 1998 defaulted on its foreign debt. The ruble and the financial markets collapsed, and Yeltsin was a spent force. "The '90s sucked," says Stephen Sestanovich, a Columbia University professor who was the State Department's special adviser for the new Independent States of the former Soviet Union under President Bill Clinton. "Putin managed to play on the resentment that Russians everywere were feeling." Indeed, by the time Putin took over in late 1999, there was nowhere to fall but up.

Path to Power

That Russia needed fixing was acknowledged by all. But how was it that Putin got the call? What was it that lifted him to power, and to the dacha in Novo-Ogarevo? Putin's rise continues to perplex even devoted Kremlin observers. He was born into humble circumstances in St. Petersburg in 1952. His father had fought in World War II and later labored in a train-car factory. Putin's mother, a devout Orthodox Christian, had little education and took on a series of menial jobs. The family lived in a drab fifth-floor walk-up in St. Petersburg; Putin had to step over swarms of rats occupying the entranceway on his way to school. Putin's only ancestor of note was his paternal grandfather, who had served as a cook for both Lenin and Stalin, though there's no sign that this gave his family any special status or connections. Putin describes his younger self as a poor student and a "hooligan." Small for his age, he got roughed by his contemporaries. So he took up sambo—a Soviet-era blend of judo and wrestling—and later just judo. From all accounts, he devoted himself to the martial art, attracted by both its physical demands and its contemplative philosophical core. "It's respect for your elders and opponents," he says in First Person, his question-and-answer memoir published in 2000. "It's not for weaklings."

[...]

Source: http://www.time.com/time/specials/20...690766,00.html



And, as predicted, they are jealous:


Myth of the Strongman


So Time magazine is the latest to swoon at Vladimir Putin's "steely confidence and strength," his "chiseled facial features and those penetrating eyes." The Russian president is a man of "contained power," Time finds, whose gaze says: "I'm in charge." Time's elevation of Putin as Person of the Year is not all hagiography by any means. The designation is reserved for consequential but not necessarily beneficent figures. Time found Putin to be charmless and humorless, a czar who has "dramatically curtailed freedoms." But the magazine buys into the central myths that Putin has fostered, that the Bush administration consistently has promoted and that increasingly are accepted as historical truth. Foremost among these is that, by transforming democracy into autocracy, Putin also transformed chaos into stability. Russia a decade ago, Time senior editor Nathan Thornburgh observes, was "a rudderless mess, defined most by a bestial crime rate and Boris Yeltsin's kleptocracy in the Kremlin."

In fact, crime worsened after Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president in 2000, as did corruption. In a useful corrective to the conventional wisdom just published by Foreign Affairs magazine, Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University cite official Russian statistics to show that the average annual total of murders increased from 30,200 between 1995 and 1999 to 32,200 between 2000 and 2004. Meanwhile, in 2006 Transparency International ranked Russia at a new low of 121 out of 163 countries for corruption, the Stanford experts point out, "putting it between the Philippines and Rwanda." And, while soaring oil prices larded the Russian treasury and the government payroll more than doubled, Russians were dying younger (life expectancy for Russian men is 59 years), getting sicker, having fewer children and drinking more.

What then is the basis of the myth? Russia is more prosperous today than when Putin took over, and Russians at all income levels have benefited. Like all post-Communist countries, it endured a rise in poverty and political upheaval in the first half of the 1990s. In 1997-98, Russia along with other "emerging markets" suffered a financial crash. Yeltsin appointed a new prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who restored fiscal solvency and began Russia's recovery, before Putin appeared on the scene. The forlorn babushkas selling their personal effects that many foreigners remember were ancient history by the time Putin took power. Putin continued the economic reforms in his first years, to good effect. But as he clamped down on political freedoms, he also went after independent businesses and began to resocialize the economy, dampening investment. Stunningly, even with all its oil, Russia's rate of economic growth fell from second among the 15 post-Soviet republics in 2000 to 13th in 2005. "If there is any causal relationship between authoritarianism and economic growth in Russia," McFaul and Stoner-Weiss conclude, "it is negative."

Russia, like Poland, Estonia and many other countries, went through tough post-Communist times. It was approaching a safe shore by the time Putin took office. Yeltsin's greatest sins involved impinging on democracy -- not allowing too much of it -- but he nonetheless bequeathed Putin a country with a lively press, competitive political parties and an energized civil society. Like Poland, Estonia and the rest, Russia could have opted for prosperity and democracy. Putin made a different choice. Why then is he so popular? There's the oil boom, of course, and the fact that government-controlled television -- the only kind now -- lionizes him ceaselessly. But maybe the better question would be: Is he so popular? Generally, an answer could be derived in two ways. One is polling. But the Kremlin has gradually sapped the independence of Russia's polling industry, just as it did with the media, and it's fair to ask how honestly respondents will be evaluating -- publicly, speaking to strangers -- a leader whose enemies tend to end up poisoned, shot or in prison.

The other method is elections, and here perhaps we should defer to Putin's considered judgment. Garry Kasparov, the famous chess grandmaster, wanted to run for president against Putin's handpicked successor. A candidate must be nominated at a public meeting, but no one would rent Kasparov a meeting hall. Officials menaced his wife and daughter when they sought to fly out of the country. Kasparov himself was jailed when he attempted to take part in a political demonstration. Ten days ago, he finally gave up. Why would a leader of such steely confidence, heroic achievement and massive popularity be so afraid of political competition? Perhaps he will explain at Time's awards banquet.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...122302070.html

Putin? Really?


Time magazine gives Vladimir Putin way too much credit for Russia's economic recovery.

As an exercise in journalism, Time's annual selection of a "Person of the Year" has always been a strange ritual. Although the magazine annually devotes gobs of resources and dozens of print pages to selecting and reporting on a winner, the editors take great pains to emphasize that the choice is not an "honor." Rather, as Managing Editor Richard Stengel explains, the selection goes to "the person who has most profoundly influenced the world during the past year, for better or for worse." That Stalin and Hitler are previous winners underscores Stengel's point. But leaving aside the value of journalists engaging in a process that is a "subjective one," which includes "no measuring stick or algorithm" but just "feels right" and ends up choosing Stalin (twice), this year's selection of Russian President Vladimir Putin is particularly odd, if only judged by the criteria that Time editors themselves establish. The selection of Putin is based on a theory about recent Russian history that is simple, powerful, and wrong.

In the 1990s, so the Time story goes, Russia was a place of lawlessness, economic depression, and instability. In the last decade, however, Russia has become a place of order, economic growth, and stability. The cause for the change: Putin. As Stengel theorizes, "Individuals can make a difference to history, and Russia's Vladimir Putin, our choice for 2007, proves the point." Time's theory about Putin and Russia contains three central flaws. First, the positive change so trumpeted is exaggerated. Second, the positive change that has occurred between the 1990s and the last several years has little if anything to do with Putin. Third, the Time theory that Putin's democratic rollback has been a necessary condition for achieving stability and growth—they call it the "grand bargain"—is simply wrong. In fact, there is no evidence at all—and most certainly not in the 36 pages Time devotes to Putin and his Russia—that greater autocracy has caused either order or growth. Autocracy's re-emergence under Putin has coincided with tremendous economic growth but has not caused it. If anything, Putin's autocratic turn has reduced the economic gains from what they would have been had democracy survived.

In proving Putin's greatness, the word stability appears most often in the Time coverage; on his "report card," this is the only subject in which Putin gets an A. But finding evidence of this new stability, both in Time's reporting and in reality, is difficult. Time writers conflate "central authority" with "stability," a real no-no in my business of political science, since there are lots of autocracies in the world that do not provide stability (think of Angola, among other examples). Lower crime rates, less corruption, fewer terrorist attacks, better health conditions, or more secure property rights are some conventional measures of strong, stable government, yet Putin's Russia has made amazingly little or no progress on any of these indicators, despite eight years of economic growth. The only hard evidence of stability in the Putin era is economic growth. During Putin's tenure, growth in Russia has averaged an impressive 6.7 percent; real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year; consumer spending has skyrocketed; unemployment has fallen from 12 percent to 6 percent; and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent to 14 percent. Russians have never been richer. Public opinion polls show that this economic growth, after a decade of recession, makes Russians feel more stable and better off compared to the Yeltsin era.

But did Putin have anything to do with this recovery? Surprisingly, for a theory based on the role of the individual in making history, Time's writers use almost no "action verbs" to describe Putin's economic policies. And there's a reason that Putin seems like an observer, rather than an actor, in this central drama of his era: It's because he was one. Russia's economic transformation from communism to capitalism followed a very similar pattern to all countries in the region. Given the dreadful initial economic conditions, every post-Communist government was compelled to pursue some degree of price and trade liberalization, macroeconomic stabilization, and eventually privatization. The entire region experienced economic recession and then began to recover several years after the adoption of reforms. Russia followed this same general trajectory and would have done so under Putin or Yeltsin. Had Putin become president or prime minister in January 1992, he would never have appeared on the cover of Time.

Russia's economic turnaround came after a financial meltdown in August 1998 that finally forced the Russian government to pursue prudent fiscal policies and a more rational exchange-rate policy, including a major devaluation. As a result of these painful but necessary reforms, Russia's economy finally began to grow a year before Putin came to power. In addition to coming to power well after the painful reforms necessary to jump-start growth had been implemented, Putin benefited from another force not of his making: rising world oil prices. As the price of oil moved from $10 a barrel in 1998 to over $90 a barrel today, anyone in the Kremlin would have reaped the credit for Russia's economic recovery. But is being in the right place at the right time "leadership—bold, earth-changing leadership"? Putin did implement some important tax reforms and established a stabilization fund to ensure that the windfall revenues would not be spent frivolously or in an inflationary manner. The main drivers of Russia's economic rebirth, however, were world commodity prices, not Putin's leadership.

In fact, the change in which Putin's leadership is most apparent—growing autocratic rule—has slowed economic growth, not spurred it. Corruption, a drag on growth, has skyrocketed under Putin's "central authority." Renationalization and redistribution of property directed by Putin's autocratic regime have caused declines in the performance of formerly private companies, destroyed value in Russia's most profitable companies, and slowed investment, both foreign and domestic. Investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, is stronger today than ever before, but well below the average for democracies in the region, such as Poland and Estonia. Perhaps the most telling evidence of Putin's personal impact on Russian growth is provided by regional comparisons. Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. In 2006, the Russian economy outperformed only Moldova's and Kyrgyzstan's. That's leadership? Time's claim, therefore, that Putin has provided a "grand bargain" of more growth for less freedom is indeed a "subjective one," based on "no measuring stick or algorithm."

Comparing Russia with Ukraine especially underscores the fallacy. Russia and Ukraine share hundreds of years of culture and history and endured the hardships of the 1990s. But today the two countries have two big differences: Russia has oil and gas, and Ukraine does not; Russia is an autocracy, Ukraine is not. Yet, despite these differences, democratic Ukraine has managed annual growth rates higher than autocratic Russia's, despite having to pay dearly for—rather than reaping profits from—higher energy prices. So, why was the erosion of democracy necessary for economic growth? How did taking control of Russia's independent TV stations help to balance the budget? How did arresting Garry Kasparov earlier this month foster investment? One can only wonder how much faster Russia would have grown with a more democratic system, complete with an independent media to expose corruption, a genuine courts system to prosecute illegal seizures of property, and a real opposition to check the Kremlin's predatory behavior.

In mistaking correlation for causation—in arguing that the coincidence of Putin's time in power and Russia's economic recovery proves that "individuals can make a difference to history"—Time has delivered a public relations coup to Putin. Kremlin officials have already applauded. For those in Russia still fighting for independent media and still convinced that objective journalism is a noble aspiration, Time's decision to celebrate Putin with this un-honor most certainly doesn't "feel right," and it most certainly doesn't feel like journalism. Some traditions should come to an end.

Source: http://www.slate.com/id/2180857/

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