The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
American media coverage of Vladimir Putin, who today began his third term as Russia's president and 13th year as its leader, has so demonized him that the result may be to endanger U.S. national security.
For nearly 10 years, mainstream press reporting, editorials and op-ed articles have increasingly portrayed Putin as a czar-like "autocrat," or alternatively a "KGB thug," who imposed a "rollback of democratic reforms" under way in Russia when he succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president in 2000. He installed instead a "venal regime" that has permitted "corruptionism," encouraged the assassination of a "growing number" of journalists and carried out the "killing of political opponents." Not infrequently, Putin is compared to Saddam Hussein and even Stalin.
Well-informed opinions, in the West and in Russia, differ considerably as to the pluses and minuses of Putin's leadership over the years – my own evaluation is somewhere in the middle – but there is no evidence that any of these allegations against him are true, or at least entirely true. Most seem to have originated with Putin's personal enemies, particularly Yeltsin-era oligarchs who found themselves in foreign exile as a result of his policies – or, in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison. Nonetheless, U.S. media, with little investigation of their own, have woven the allegations into a near-consensus narrative of "Putin's Russia."
Even the epithet commonly applied to Putin is incorrect. The dictionary and political science definition of "autocrat" is a ruler with absolute power, and Putin has hardly been that. There are many examples of his need to mediate, sometimes unsuccessfully, among powerful groups in the ruling political establishment and of his policies being thwarted by Moscow and regional bureaucracies. Moreover, if Putin really were a "cold-blooded, ruthless" autocrat, tens of thousands of protesters would not have appeared in Moscow streets, not far from the Kremlin, following the December presidential election. Nor would they have been officially sanctioned – as were the thousands who gathered yesterday before a small group breached the sanctioned lines and violence ensued – or shown on state television.
President Putin recently noted that Russia has emerged from the global financial crisis in a stronger position than before, and that average wages will increase by 60% by the year 2020. Traditionally, many people think of Russia as a provider of natural resources, and increasingly as a safe pair of hands for mega-events, such as the upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2014, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Today the Russian economy is the sixth largest in the world, with an output which may potentially exceed US$ 2 trillion in 2012. Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 4.2 per cent in 2011, making the country the third fastest growing economy after China and India.
from The Great Debate:
Excerpted from The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2012 by Masha Gessen.
Encouraged by his former deputy’s meteoric rise, former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak decided to end his Paris exile and go back to Russia in the summer of 1999. He returned full of hope and even more full of ambition. As Sobchak was leaving Paris, Arkady Vaksberg, a forensics specialist turned investigative reporter and author with whom Sobchak had become friendly during his years in France, asked him whether he hoped to return to Paris as an ambassador. “Higher than that,” replied Sobchak. Vaksberg was sure the former mayor was aiming for the foreign minister’s seat: the rumor in Moscow’s political circles was that Sobchak would head up the Constitutional Court, the most important court in the country.
from Ian Bremmer:
By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.
After a week full of anti-government and pro-government protests, Russians woke up on Monday to big news. Mikhail Prokhorov, a political novice with billions of dollars—and the New Jersey Nets— to his name, announced his Presidential bid. Alexei Kudrin, a longtime bureaucratic infighter, also declared his plans to re-enter the political arena. These developments were even more significant considering both were ousted in rather public quarrels with the powers that be just months ago. Kudrin said he would support and aid a pro-reform liberal party that would stand as a counterweight to the incumbent United Russia. Prokhorov intends to challenge Putin for the presidency in March 2012 on a platform that would appeal to Russia’s “disenchanted middle class.”
No matter what Kudrin and Prokhorov say in public, they both represent the same thing to Russia and the world: Vladimir Putin’s iron grip on power. As I’ve written before, Putin is the most powerful individual on the planet. To think that either man would risk his freedom or his fortune to oppose Putin’s Kremlin, no matter what their stated reasons are, is just wrong. That said, there are reasons to watch this “race” as it will give some insight into Putin’s inevitable third term as president.
from The Great Debate:
By John Bolton
The opinions expressed are his own.
With President Obama’s Libya policy staggering from one embarrassment to another, last week he and Secretary of State Clinton outdid themselves. They publicly welcomed Russia’s effort to insert itself as a mediator, an act of such strategic myopia that it must leave even Moscow’s leadership speechless.
Permanent Security Council members Russia and China abstained on the initial resolution authorizing force to create a Libya no-fly zone and to protect innocent civilians. By not casting a veto, Russia thereby tacitly allowed military action to proceed. As they did, Russia repeatedly second-guessed and harshly criticized NATO’s operations. Now, as a mediator, Russia will, in effect, have the chance to rewrite the Council’s resolution according to its own lights.
Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.
In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.
Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.
By Laurance Copeland
After one year, the progress report on the Coalition reads “Moving in the right direction, but with a lot more to do”.
Nonetheless, it is a prisoner of its commitment at the outset to leave two departmental budgets untouched: the NHS and international aid. It is not simply the amounts of money involved (colossal in the case of the NHS, relatively small for aid). It is also the signal it sends that there is such a status as sacrosanct, which immediately begs the question from policemen, firemen, teachers, the legal system, the armed forces: why isn’t our budget sacrosanct too?
from Global Investing:
Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital also expects this segment of the demography to spur politically risky pension reforms.
from Global News Journal:
It's hard to find a delegate to the United Nations who despises U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But it's even harder to find someone who thinks he has the gravitas and charisma of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning predecessor Kofi Annan, who invoked the wrath of the previous U.S. administration when he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq "illegal." As one senior Western official, who declined to be identified, said about Ban: "It's not as if he's lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him."
from Davos Notebook:
Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the term BRICs back in 2001, is adding four new countries to the elite club of emerging market economies. But does his new edifice have the same solid foundations?
In future, the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India will be merged with those of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and South Korea under the banner “growth markets,” O'Neill told the Financial Times.