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Alexander Ryhoravich Lukashenko

Alexander Ryhoravich LukashenkoLukashenko

POLITICS
2012-03-01
Putin’s first presidencies
 

Vladimir Putin is once again prepared to become president. The ‘strong man of Russia’ indulged himself in a hiatus of four years where he acted ‘only’ as Prime Minister. He was doubtlessly controversial during his first incumbencies from 2000 to 2008, but do his actions live up to his reputation? A Pro & Contra by Stefan Bernhardt

At present, Western media and the Russian opposition alike see additional terms for Putin in office as endemic to stagnation of democratic change in Russia. Putin as a politician polarized the people in Russia as well as abroad. Despite this, he was constantly one of the most popular politicians in Russia – even to this day. Even the protests which have dominated the reports on Russia since the 2011 Duma Elections cannot diminish his popularity. In the end, his actions count more than his reputation. An overview of his two presidencies is discussed here in Pro & Contra.

The political System

Pro: Putin ended the destructive pluralism of the 1990s. He created political stability which was necessary for positive developments in economy as well as society. The governors are no longer able to interfere with federal politics or to enact independent foreign and trade policy. The amendments to party and election law ensured Russian parties a more solid establishment throughout the country – and society at large – owing to laws stipulating more members in more regions. Moreover, politics has better prevented oligarchs who benefited at the expense of the people and state by transforming Russia into a personal convenience store during the incumbency of the previous Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.

Contra:
The political system became more undemocratic under Putin. Whoever wants to have a say or take part in the government does not have to gain support of the entire populace prior to an election but merely that of the Kremlin. Political competition practically no longer exists; elections just serve to confirm the existing policy of the Kremlin by acclamation. Citizens are excluded from the political process even on the regional level: instead of electing their governor directly, the Kremlin recommends candidates to the regional Duma.

The economy

Pro: Under Putin, Russia has not merely recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 1998 Financial Crisis. Until today, it continues to catch up to the West with its economic growth. The use of resource revenue has been savvy in the meantime. Beside the Reserve Funds for times of crisis, the country also uses a part of the revenue for investments outside of the energy sector. It has gone into housing, the high tech branch and paid off foreign debts. This itself paid off in the global 2008 Financial Crisis. Without the reserves, the consequences of the crisis would have arguably been much more devastating.

Contra: Russia still dependents on the exportation of resources like oil and natural gas. Russian finished goods or high-tech products which could be exported effectively do not exist. The investments have no effect so far. A new and better economic basis has not been laid. The modernization effort fails to make progress. Industrial installations have dominated in nearly all areas since Soviet times. The climate for foreign investments is not sufficiently developed; consequently, there continues to be high capital hemorrhage. Putin failed to diversify the foreign investments in his first two presidencies; up to today, nearly half of it has gone into the energy or raw material sector. The annual inflation lies at well over seven percent.

Society / Social

Pro: The living standard of the Russian population dramatically increased under Putin. He contributed significantly to the creation of a middle class. Not only companies profited from the economic growth, but the citizens as well.

Contra: The society was disfranchised. NGOs, like citizen movements, have since struggled against both corrupt officials and corrupt politician on local and regional levels alike. Violence against journalists and NGOs created an atmosphere of fear. Running a demonstration is dependent on munificence of the authorities rather than on constitutional rights of the citizens. Citizen’s rights are inherently restricted. Putin also did nothing to prevent the emergence of nationalism in the country which has not only already reached mainstream status but also manifests as violence against groups from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Corruption

Pro: The higher living standard of the people and the rise in salary for officials have hampered corruption as the bribe rose simultaneously. Since Putin’s terms, more corruption cases are registered instead of remaining obscure. The attempts at reform showed how complex the fight against corruption is in Russia independent of a president’s strength. Easy solutions are impossible; only gradual reform over long periods will work because corruption exists in all levels of state institutions.

Contra: Putin never fought seriously against corruption. All measures, like the attempted reform of the Ministry of Justice, were a failure. Corruption continues not only in politics or bureaucracy but in other areas, such as in health care, education or in justice. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior Affairs are in charge of fighting corruption. These two, however, are the most corrupt authorities. Putin’s presidencies failed to alter this.

The Chechnya War

Pro: The end of civil war in Chechnya was undeniably a big success for Putin. Furthermore, he created important prerequisites of improving the conflict situation in the long run. In Ramsan Kadyrov as the head of Chechnya there exists once more a single authority of the state rather than several militant groups which fight amongst themselves, covering the country in a shroud of violence. After the attack at the school of Beslan, a revision was taking place within the Russian leadership. Instead of focusing on a purely military solution of the conflict, they added alternative approaches. Investments into the infrastructure of Chechnya should help to prevent against the social causes for the conflict. The overall situation is not perfect but has improved considerably.

Contra: The situation is indisputably better than that of an active civil war in Chechnya, but the extremists and militant groups were neither arrested nor disarmed. They were ousted into the neighboring republics where the attacks have resultingly increased. The violence was only shifted. The money which Moscow pours into Chechnya rarely reaches the people. Corrupt local officials, along with Kadyrov and his clan continue to siphon off most of the money for themselves. Attacks and kidnappings have both decreased but the security situation is still not desirable. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the Second Chechen War began under Putin and he carries joint responsibility for the current state of the situation along with the death toll of the civil war.