Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Russian superman with charm and appeal, will likely retain his position, perhaps until at least 2024, which would mark a duration of two more terms. In seeking support in the coming election, Putin took questions in a four and a half hour televised call-in show.
Prime Minister Putin has done this talk show for the past decade; the show last weekend was the longest yet. Putin displayed his knowledge of Russian cities and remote areas, and his interest in all of the Russian people. He discussed healthcare, pensions, housing, and stability. Of the United States, the prime minister said, “The United States does not need allies, it needs vassals.” A vassal our online dictionary tells us is, “A person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to some designated leader.” Putin also spoke of his laudable economic record; of reducing poverty.
Russia, like much of the world, is experiencing a period when protests by students and varying young people are popular and ongoing. In Russia, the main cause of the protests has been the issue of unfair, possibly rigged, elections. Putin downplayed the demonstrations, and told the audience that in fact he suspected that the protesters were “paid to be there.”
On December 10, speaking of the rallies of tens of thousands of people, Putin mixed words of praise with suggestions that some of the demonstrators complaining of electoral fraud and demanding a new election were paid to show up. “I saw people on the TV screens … mostly young people, active and with positions that they expressed clearly,” he said. “This makes me happy, and if that is the result of the Putin regime, that’s good. There’s nothing bad about it.” “They will at least make some money.” In this case, Putin declined to offer an opinion as to who it was that paid the young demonstrators. However, in the past he has blamed such actions on the United States.
Having been slightly out of touch with the media of late, some pundits claimed the prime minister, in suit and tie, at a large desk, looked ill at ease. Putin responded to a degree on the issue of faulty elections, saying he might consider bringing back direct elections, with the condition that candidates had full approval of the parties. “We can move in this direction,” he said.
Less visible protesters, young urban professionals, want the political system altered to provide input from the liberal opposition. Allegations of flawed elections have been confirmed by international vote monitors who said the Dec. 4 election was slanted to favor Putin’s United Russia party. At one notable point in the televised question and answer session, Putin said to the journalist hosting the program, “I’ve had enough of these questions about the elections.”
In spite of some extreme factors, Russians see Putnin as a superman and hero. His devotees view him as the man who saved Russia from the grasp of Western imperialism, and who restored military might. He has worked with the rich, who are rewarded in kind, to keep factories open, and to keep the people working. Putin is a former spy for the KGB and has been accused of playing a role in apartment bombings and other acts of terrorism in his fight for power. Putin, many remember, was accused of ordering the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
When campaigning in remote rural areas, Putin conveys a different image. In the provinces he is a man who rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty. He is known as the “Plumber Tsar.” In areas where there is no internet, and little televised coverage, he is the man to bring in the harvest. In such an area, he and President Medvedev drove combine harvesters. When Medvedev asked Putin, as Putin climbed from the harvester, “Did you like it?” Putin responded, “”Yes, very much,” and boasted about the six tons of corn he had harvested.
American readers are aware that an opponent of Putin and Medvedev (who at some point may switch their government posts) is one of Russia’s wealthiest men, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Internet savvy Prokhorov, with a fortune estimated at $22.7 billion, made his fortune in nickel and palladium in the early 1990s. In 2008, Prokhorov sold his interest in Norilsk Nickel and invested in ONEXIM Group private investment fund. The billionaire would, he says, work with President Dmitry Medvedev to modernize Russia’s economy by boosting high-tech industries providing resource extraction. He has produced a $25 billion fund to invest in alternative energy and nanotechnology.
Possibly underestimating Prokhorov and his financial capacity, skeptics insist that no one has a chance of defeating Putin. Putin has worked his entire career with rich and powerful Russian tycoons, yet still holds his hand out to the middle class medium sized businesses. Putin campaigns to the young, encouraging education, and helped create the Nashi (Ours) youth movement. That movement receives large support from the government under Putin, and encourages youth to take part in meetings and summer camps.
In new items just available today, Vladimir Putin has made new reference to the U.S. He asks, “Is this what they call democracy?” in responding to the alleged use by the U.S. of drones to attack Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi’s column. America, Putin claimed, “used the radio – through the Special Forces, who should not have been there – they brought in the so-called opposition and fighters, and killed him without court or investigation…there was blood all over. Is this what they call a democracy?”