|The Putin we donít know
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Vavra) - Russian
President Vladimir Putin's online news conference consists of about one
million questions asked by mail, telephone, SMS and via the Internet.
Most of the questions are serious and allow the president to speak on the
key issues of life in Russia, yet there are quite a few questions that are
not directly connected to politics.
Although Putin has held his high post for seven years and appears on
television almost daily, he still remains an enigma, to a degree. We know
his face, but can we say that we know him?
The objective of the Kremlin's PR team is to show the president in the
best light. They show him talking with the people, including children, and
at home with his family and pets. Everything looks fine, and we seem to
have come very close to knowing the president, but for one thing.
Putin can quickly close the door into his life, thoughts, likes and
dislikes. He guards his privacy against intruders, as he was probably
taught to do in the KGB school. But we tend to revise the knowledge we
receive at school, adjusting it to our temperament, way of thinking, views
Putin added judo to his "special studies" in the KGB school.
Judo is a martial art teaching you to respect your adversary.
Order and democracy
By the 1990s, Russia was ripe for reform. The wave of change that swept
the country brought to the surface a new generation of politicians,
businessmen and economists, as well as a great deal of opportunists. Each
of them had their own formula for enrichment, which they claimed would
benefit the country. The result was a rapid appearance and growth of
Russian millionaires despite a persisting crisis in the economy.
Putin firmly put an end to the practice of splitting Russia into privately
owned domains. Although his policy overstepped the role of the state, it
was the only way to stop certain people from using state property for
personal enrichment and whims.
It is one of the reasons why Russia has been accused of building a
democracy that does not look like Western models and therefore cannot be
regarded as a true democracy. Putin is invariably pained by these
Theories are very good, but is there a reliable formula for restoring
order in a country that is being torn apart by financial and industrial
groups, regional clans and outright criminals?
Putin started using India's example as an argument in discussions about
universal recipes for building a democratic state.
"Your country is a major democracy," the Russian president said
in Indian parliament in 2004. "You have overcome the most deeply
embedded stereotypes according to which democratic principles can
effectively develop only in European-type countries. India has proved that
ancient systems can be modern and successfully respond to today's
challenges. Your experience shows that democratic freedoms and human
rights are both universal and inimitable values bearing the imprint of
history, traditions and customs of the people that share them."
Skis and judo
Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin played tennis, which quickly made
it a national sport. Although it had never been big at tennis before,
Russia started winning leading positions in world tennis, ratings, and
team and personal championships.
Putin is fond of mountain skiing, which has forced his bodyguards to learn
mountain skiing too, sometimes breaking their legs in the process. But a
president going down a slope with a well-trained team is a sight to
behold. Hopefully, Russian mountain skiers are yet to rise to the top of
the global charter. At least, ski slopes are being equipped for their
training sponsored by Russian businessmen.
As to judo, we like our trim and lean president. Putin remains firm on his
feet when his team turns grey and green with fatigue. He has apparently
learned the trick of concentrating and using the body's hidden reserves
from his judo practice.
Putin is the most physically fit and the best trained of all Russian
presidents, not to mention communist party general secretaries of the
Soviet era. No wonder we are proud of him.
Lyudmila, Masha, Katya and Connie
The president is married and has two daughters.
His wife Lyudmila has proposed establishing the Russian Language Center
aimed at popularizing the Russian language and culture in the world.
His daughters Masha and Katya are students at St. Petersburg University.
There are several pets in the family, but Black Labrador Connie is the
undeniable favorite and the star of newspaper and television reports. She
often attends important international meetings. At the very least, she
feels at home in the president's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.
This sometimes creates problems. Muslims are discouraged from keeping dogs
in their homes, but what can a visiting Muslim dignitary do if Connie
decides to "get acquainted" by licking his hand?
No one is perfect
The Russian president has his drawbacks. One of them is his totally
Another is his tendency to be late for official functions. On the other
hand, the latter can be interpreted as perfectionism: Putin never starts a
new project without completing the previous one to his liking.
His third drawback is his reluctance to fire people. However, he sometimes
replaces those he had dismissed with completely unexpected candidates.
This seems to be about all I can think of for now. -0-