Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Two months of "Putin Power" in Russia - so far so good

On on 7 May 2012 Vladimir Putin was inaugurated, again, as the President of Russia having successfully completed what is called a "castling move" in Russia - he exchanged positions with (now) former President Medvedev. Even though only two months have passed since his inauguration, it is already possible to make a preliminary assessment of his first 60 days in power.  I will take a look at his performance issue by issue:

1) Formation of a new government: B

As some might remember, I was initially rather disappointed by Putin's Presidential Administration and Medvedev's new government.  In my opinion, the new administration and new government lacked any particularly inspiring people and the best that could be said about them was that even though they included many new faces, the overall impression made by this new team was one of continuity rather than charisma.

I was particularly appalled at the fact that such a spineless and mediocre figure as Defense Chief of Staff Nikolai Marakov was left on this post.  Yes, I know, he is technically neither a member of government nor a member of the Presidential Administration, but the changing of Presidents would have made it very easy to give Makarov the boot and appoint a more competent and more trusted figure such as, for example, Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov. I was also disappointed by the fact that Anatoly Serdyukov was kept as Defense Minister and that Dimitri Rogozin did not get his position. I would now nuance that opinion on the following grounds: for all his faults and mistakes, Serdyukov has proven to be an effective manager of the much needed and much delayed reform of the armed forces, whereas Rogozin has been put in an absolutely crucial position inside the Russian defense establishment: "Vice-Premier of Russian Government in charge of defense industry and Chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission of the Russian government".  That is his official title.  Semi-officially, he is in charge of purging the Russian military industrial complex from its corrupt officials while at the same time making sure that the 23 trillion Rubles (that is 23'000'000'000'000 Rubles, see here to visualize that amount) the Russian military will get in the next decade are well spent.

For all their differences and mutual dislikes, both Serdyukov and Rogozin are known to be ruthless managers and I can understand why Putin did not want to simply toss Serdyukov out in such a crucial moment.  As for Makarov, it was announced that he would retire in two years.  All in all, I would give the new administration and government a little, modest, grade of 'B'.

2) Dealing with the internal opposition: A+

The way Putin dealt with the internal opposition is, in my opinion, nothing short of brilliant.  Basically, the opposition was hopelessly discredited as a "5th column" for US interests which, of course, is *exactly* what it is.  This was done by implementing the following steps:

a) The opposition was energetically attacked on ideological grounds; Putin claimed - correctly - that absolutely nobody in the opposition had any kind of constructive political program while what is referred to as "non-system opposition" (hardline opposition activists such as Navalnii, Nemtsov, Novodvorskaia & Co) were basically US puppets, which is absolutely true.

b) The claim of electoral fraud was comprehensively debunked by installing cameras streaming live from each polling station and by allowing monitors from all the parties everywhere possible.

c) Fines for illegal demonstrations, attacks on police forces and hooliganism were dramatically increased to make it very expensive to simply "hire demonstrators" as had been done by pro-US organizations for decades.

d) Finally, in an absolutely brilliant move, the ruling party passed a new law which made it mandatory for all non-government organizations financed from abroad to register as "foreign agents", to declare their sources of income and be regularly audited.  Even though this law created an absolute panic amongst Western-paid NGOs in Russia, it was easily adopted by the Duma by a by 323 to 4 vote (in the 450-seat chamber).  Considering that for many decades the US has used its financial power to hire puppets in Russia and create numerous "independent" "civil" and "democratic" organizations, the passage of this law is a deadly blow to the single biggest lever of US power inside Russia, hence the hysterical panic amongst pro-US NGO in Russia who all understand that their days are now numbered.  The beauty of this law is that it does not ban foreign interests of financing Russian NGOs, it just forces these NGOs to openly admit that they are paid for by foreign money.  I can only say one thing about this: absolutely *brilliant* move!!!

3) Relations with the US/NATO block: A-

All in all, Putin has done everything right so far but in a more timid (or cautious) manner than I would have preferred.  He has, so far, categorically refused to budge on the Syrian issue, which is good.  And yet, the fact that Hillary Clinton has dared to openly threaten Russia (and China) at the Paris meeting of the "Friends of Syria" tells me that the time has come for both Russia and China to bare their fangs more openly and explain to a crazed US administration that it cannot act like a petty street thug in its dealings with major sovereign powers like China or Russia.  Interestingly, influential Kremlin advisors, such as Igor Korotchenko or Alexei Pushkov, are far more outspoken about the extremely antagonistic and overly hostile US/NATO policies towards Russia and I think Putin and Lavrov are simply waiting for the right moment to openly denounce the imperialistic and aggressive actions of the US.  My sense is that Putin will do everything in his power short of a military confrontation to prevent a repetition in Syria of what happened in Libya.  This is morally and pragmatically the correct course to take for Russia.

4) The "Near Abroad": too early to call

The Russian "near abroad" (the ex-Soviet Republics) is in a period of turmoil right now and it is hard to discern what, if anything, Russia is doing to stabilize or improve this situation.  The Baltic countries - under the approving gaze of the US, NATO and the EU - are merrily going along in supporting Latvia's Apartheid laws against the large Russian minority living there (while the international banking cartels continue to ruin Latvia).  In Belarus, Lukashenko's egomania makes it hard to deal with him even though the Russian and Belarussian people are basically one and the same and want to live together.  The Ukraine is still in chaos, while Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Tadzhikstan are overly taking a gradually pro-US course and anti-Russia course.  Finally, Saakashvili is every bit as crazy as he was in 2008 and he still is constantly threatening to create yet another "invincible" army to take on Russia.  Two months are far too little to discern and access of how successful Putin will be in his dealings with the near abroad.

5) Latin America, Asia, Africa: A-

Putin himself has not been personally involved with these tree key continents globally, but he as made it very clear that for him the BRICS countries are a top priority.  In its pursuit of a multi-polar world Russia is clearly engaged in a determined effort to strengthen its relations with not only BRICS, but also SCO countries.  In his first two months in office Putin has not taken any high-visibility initiatives in Latin America, Asia or Africa, but this can be logically explained by the multiple crises happening elsewhere and  I am confident that Putin will not neglect these regions in the future.

The above is just a short, incomplete and superficial survey of the very short period of time Putin has been in power, but I think it constitutes a reasonable basis for some realistic optimism.  The US influence network inside Russia has been dealt a crushing blow, Russia is holding steadfast against US/NATO pressures and threats, and if Putin has done nothing brilliant yet, he certainly has not committed any blunders either.  We will only see what kind of leader he really is during a real crisis, which the US covert war on Syria might soon trigger, but I think that we can say the following with some confidence: so far so good.

The Saker