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Putin - a new kind of leader
Most of Putin’s fascination stands out by contrast to the usual Russian political gerontocracy whose most eminent members provoked much mockery of their senility. Yuri Andropov died after less than two years in office and his successor Konstantin Chernenko endured all 16 months before his demise. Yeltsin, repeatedly inebriated, once failed to come out from a plane for an official meeting and on another case fell from a bridge. His slumbering, dragging gait didn’t raise analogies with the fearful Russian Bear but spoke of a weak heart. Placed in the company of such feeble old men Putin is easy to be taken for Superman. He is young and slender, practices judo (he is currently a black belt) and is a fan of horse racing. As one laudatory article notes: “Vladimir Vladimirovich also does things on his own - flying the airplanes, leading the ships, guiding the tanks…”
Boris Yeltsin introduced him to the Russian people by saying that "he will be able to unite around himself those who will revive Great Russia in the new, 21st century". By waging a psychological war with Europe and Russia’s so called “near abroad” over oil and gas supplies, Putin wants to revive the persistent European fear of Russian brute force and to remind them of their dependency on Russia. When he accepted the leaders of the newly-elected Palestinian Islamist terrorist group Hamas in time when the EU and the US cut all funds to the Palestinian Authority, Putin sent a sign that he is not amenable to the demands of his Western partners and that Russian politics is not a conformist one.
“Russia’s main goal is to find its place, not on the margins of world policy, but as part of the civilized world together with the U.S. and Europe”
Sergei Chugrov, a senior researcher with the Institute of World Economy
Putin on the world stage
Putin supported the US–led invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11th attacks, but bitterly opposed to the following war on Iraq. He reconciled himself with the loss of Central Europe and the Baltic states and at the same time increased the pressure over Belarus and Ukraine. He claims that “Russia is a part of European culture” and that “it is with difficulty that I imagine NATO as an enemy” but carries out an ambiguous politics with Iran and arranged a cordial reception of North Korea’s communist dictator Kim Jong-II.
Russia’s claims for uniqueness and Russia’s desire for significance should be satisfied so as to attenuate the post-Imperial complex and curb Russia’s sporadic fits of wrath and irritation. In a sense, the EU and the USA have to seduce Russia, to tame its temper, to affiliate it to Western clubs and thus control it. The full-fledged membership of Russia in the G-8 club is the result more of a political gesture than of certain fulfilled criteria, thus awarding Russia a world-recognized status, accepting her as an equal in world matters and flattering her ailing self-confidence of a significant though regional superpower.
A view from Europe
From our European watch-tower Russia is an example of sustainable non-development, of a fossilized society doomed to self-reproducing poverty and a state hermetic to outward influence. But our notion is, of course, biased. We differ in our understandings of power, politics, freedom and democracy. For instance, Putin once said that the West is misinterpreting “the strengthening of our country” as “authoritarianism”. We cannot ignore the fact that Russia has been strongest when the most repulsive despotic regimes were flourishing. What’s more important is that despite humiliations, Russian people still love their country /and authorities!/ and fear Europe.
We should appreciate the grand tectonic shift which shook Russian politics, due to Vladimir Putin as well. The one-sided, monolith, ideologically-coloured politics of Communist Russia is replaced by a more-flexible, multifaceted and interest-based approach which serves Russia better and is much more acceptable by the West. But we shouldn’t fall to the deception that Russia has changed radically.
Putin’s autocratic practices are far from the fanatic yearn for power inherent in his predecessors. His attitude towards European leaders is friendly and in no way can be compared to the flagrant disregard characteristic to Stalin or Brezhnev. After all, Putin shares common interests with his European counterparts – he needs European investments and goods while Europe cannot do without Russian energy resources. That may be not enough to declare him “our friend”, nor is it a reason to condemn him as a “foe”. On Putin and his legacy we may look with certain hope and big cautiousness.