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Putin’s Seven Year Plan
26.03.07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Vavra)

President Putin has entered the home stretch – he has exactly a year to go as Russia’s president.
He has come a long way in these seven years, having inherited from Boris Yeltsin his position but not power. There was no single center of power in the country and it was a subject of fierce fighting.
Putin’s presidency generated huge expectations. His compatriots wanted a more orderly society, where pensions and salaries would be paid on time, and without all-powerful oligarchs, embezzlement, inflation, crime, and instability in Chechnya. He tried to make these expectations come true.
Far from all people in Russia are happy with their lives. Nevertheless, more than 60% support Putin. They blame the government and the parliament, but trust the president. The fact that his compatriots have not been disenchanted with him during these seven years may be surprising but it shows that he has managed the country the way the people have wanted him to (despite his firm “no,” there are still those who stubbornly insist on his third term).
He has managed to find a balance between Russia as it is today and the need to develop, a balance between tradition and progress.
But the exceptional economic situation makes an unbiased assessment of his performance difficult. Some may attribute it to good luck – who knows what the economy would be like if oil prices remained around $10-$12 per barrel? High oil prices are a powerful tail wind that makes it difficult to appreciate the skill of a steersman.
In their polemical zeal, some opponents can be very harsh about Putin’s personality and abilities, but they are unfair. Competent critics admit his obvious political talent.
He has created the groundwork for the continuation of his policy in terms of ideology and choice of successor – the change of the ruling elite is absolutely out of the question. The nation has realized once and for all how it is going to live in the near future. It is clear that we will not develop by fits and starts. Putin’s another achievement is that the opposition has acquired an image of marginality. As a result, its influence on the nation’s development is approaching zero.
Putin has implemented the idea of sensible government control in key economic sectors.
At the same time, his foreign policy record is dubious. Russia has become a much more serious player in the world arena but the interests-instead-of-friends idea has been taken too literally. A nation’s international strategy primarily rests on its foreign trade.
But there is no point to give an interim assessment of Putin’s performance. The results of his work will become obvious only in mid-term perspective. What is good today, may be bad tomorrow, and the other way round.
Therefore, giving any assessments today is a thankless job. Any negative comments can be countered with today’s economic achievements. Likewise, positive remarks can be tainted by negative ones (borrowed from the foreign media, for example). The main point is that Russians do not see any alternative to Putin. They want to live in a country that he is building.
But there are some questions that will remain outstanding until the end of his term: the inadmissible social and economic gap between different classes; the incomplete party system (the United Russia’s fully-fledged partner has not yet been found); Russia’s continued search for its place in the world (the fact that we will soon have computers and Internet access in every school and all hospitals will be equipped with ambulances will not convince our partners that we are also European); the quality of economic growth (economic diversification and innovations are sooner a slogan than tomorrow’s reality); corruption (the government’s losing battle); and the place of the opposition (it has been ousted from the political system into the street).
But there is one issue that requires more attention, notably, the authoritarian trends of Putin’s presidency. The atmosphere in the 1990s was more liberal, and there was more initiative and independence in the economy.
Is authoritarian rule an excess of his course or a general line? It is not correct to approach this subject outside the timeframe or the given reality. To an even lesser extent can it be judged by a moral yardstick. At some periods, it was the most effective model, as numerous historic examples bear out.
Who said that the effective modern model of economic and political development should be a copy of the American pattern? There are several models and they are effective because each is adapted to the situation in a given country.
Clearly, Russia should have a more centralized model of economic and political structure that would enforce more discipline, all the more so since its citizens do not know or understand their own past or their future, and are, therefore easily influenced.
Whether Putin has created a viable model or not will be seen from the performance of his successor, who will modify it at his own discretion. We will either increasingly adapt ourselves to Western standards or pay more attention to our own features and traditions. But this is a matter of nuances and accents rather than differences of principle.
For the time being this choice rests with Putin. It will be very interesting to know what he will choose. At any rate, he will not impose his choice on the nation. He understands very well what the Russian people want, and will guide himself by their choice.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-