THE YEAR OF THE TEFLON PRESIDENCY

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The first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s presidency is a good reason for observers of various periodicals for returning to their old forecasts, making some conclusions, and forecasting the near future.

Estimates of the president’s activity considerably differ. Sometimes it is even strange that one and the same person is discussed in the same circumstances.

Obshchaya Gazeta entitled its article about the results of the past year “Drifting in Still Waters.” Obshchaya Gazeta says that by the end of the first year of Putin’s presidency the word “stagnation” returned to the Russian political vocabulary. The president’s supporters are said to use this word actively. They make it clear that he has done too little over the year: he has only moved governors from the Federation Council to the State Council, adopted the national symbols, and has been chasing after Gusinsky.

When the administrative reform was announced at the beginning of Putin’s presidency, even liberals from the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko believed that a war against the regional chaos had been declared. However, it has turned out that “Putin has ousted regional leaders only from the field where they used to compete with the president. At the same time, regional barons kept all their liberties in their regions.” Moreover, governors’ opportunities to be reelected have even been extended.

Obshchaya Gazeta says Putin’s relations with the business elite are the same. So far, there are only two “victims” of his attack against tycoons: Berezovsky and Gusinsky. The newspaper notes that “it is clear that these two tycoons have suffered not because they violated law most of all but just because their business entered the field the president does not want to share with anyone.”

Other businesspeople do not suffer for their sins. For instance, all efforts to make oil magnates pay taxes have failed. The same situation is surrounding the state’s attempts to deal with those guilty of the energy crisis in the Primorye Region and to combat capital flight.

Obshchaya Gazeta says that “Putin’s version of a ‘strong state’ implies a ‘strong president’ only. Therefore, the harmonizing efforts of the new leader have led to reinforcement of the authoritarianism of the Yeltsin system.”

The newspaper considers that Putin is a leader “tending to act not according to a plan but according to circumstances.” All contradictions in his position mean that he does not have a program of his own. “In other words, Russian citizens should be aware of the fact that the route of the state vessel will depend on the direction and speed of the current. If the fairway is free, we will get somewhere – if not to America, then to India.”

The magazine Delovye Lyudi says the president has gained a reputation of a flexible and even irresolute person. “He is apparently becoming weaker.” The magazine says the bureaucratic apparatus is the main opposition to Putin’s administrative reforms. “However, the president underestimates this threat, repeating Gorbachev’s most serious error: flirtation with conservators.” The magazine notes, “It would be not bad if Gorbachev told Putin about the outcomes of this tactics. He can also tell him that substitution for urgent political measures by phrase-mongering is extremely dangerous.”

Besides, Delovye Lyudi believes that Putin’s high rating is as easy to waste as profits from oil export. “Even Gleb Pavlovsky is saying that it is necessary to activate the policy promised by the president.”

Delovye Lyudi has published another article on this topic written by Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. He says, “The strong current of the historical tradition is constantly driving Russia to reefs of an immobile bureaucratic state smothering economic freedom and the civil society as a whole. It is necessary to turn the steering wheel toward freedom and modern development. This turn depends on Vladimir Putin.” Ryzhkov stakes his hopes for the new presidential address to the Federal Assembly. He believes that this address is to clarify the president’s intentions.

The weekly Vek is wondering how a political rating is created.

The weekly considers that one of the main reasons for Putin’s initial high rating is the complete decline of his predecessor’s rating. Any person would have been cheered by the nation in this situation.

At the same time, Vek pays attention to the fact that there is practically no one to compare Putin to. According to the weekly, this is caused by the fact that according to the 1993 Constitution, Russia is not only presidential but super-presidential republic. Actually, it is nearly “an electoral monarchy.” This state order actually makes other political figures incomparable to the president. Therefore, the rating does not have any practical sense. In the current situation it only confirms the president’s absolute power. Moreover, in the current political system the president may rule even if his rating is minute (Yeltsin’s rating in 1999 was 2%), and he may be even reelected if his rating is low, as was with Yeltsin in 1996.

Vek says the rating may be “people’s credit of trust given for future achievements.” Its stability is also easy to explain: people understand that the country is facing difficult problems are expect the president to solve them very soon. However, the higher a rating is, the more rapidly it may collapse. This “avalanche” may be caused even by a mere trifle, which would hardly affect a lower rating.

Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov has suggested that the old question “Who is Mr. Putin?” be replaced by a new question: “Why do we need Mr. Putin?”

Unlike many other journalists, Tretyrkov does not think that the past year was futile. He says, “It is necessary to consider the scale of chaos, anarchy, and destruction in the country Putin inherited from Boris Yeltsin.”

In particular, the editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta believes that the force operation in Chechnya has been successfully completed. Tretyakov thinks that although the situation in Chechnya is tragic and complicated, the government has managed to preserve Russia’s territorial integrity. Besides, he thinks that the Army’s trust for the government has been restored, and the Chechen conflict “has been shifted to the periphery of public consciousness.”

Tretyakov also thinks that the primary political reform has also been a success. Russia has ceased to be an anarchic-oligarchic country and has acquired a democracy ruled by bureaucracy.” He also says the mild regional separatism has been suppressed to some extent. New attempts to de-bureaucratize the economy have been made. Both houses of the Federal Assembly have become loyal to the Kremlin. Financial groups led by tycoons, which used to be independent of the state’s interests, have started to be politically controlled.

Furthermore, the government is demonstrating certain economic successes against the background of the current “oil prosperity.”

Tretyakov also asserts that Putin has gained many positive results in the foreign policy. although his policy “is not quite adequate to the US’ geostrategic domination, still it counts with actual foreign political threats.”

As for negative traits in the president’s actions, they are of the same nature as his successes, as Tretyakov says.

The most conspicuous demerit of the president in his “inferiority complex connected with his former profession.” However, Tretyakov believes that Putin will have to get rid of this complex in any case.

Judging from the editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it is very difficult to draw a border between Vladimir Putin’s merits and demerits.

For instance, the president has confessed in his interviews to Izvestia, Trud, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Moskovsky Komsomolets that he has not found a method for fighting the Russian bureaucracy. Vitaly Tretyakov notes that these methods are well known, and only political will is necessary to use them. At the same time, Tretyakov stresses that it is extremely important that the president has called the problem of bureaucracy a prime issue.

Tretyakov formulates another Putin flaw as follows: “He is too mild when he knows how to resolve this or that problem.” He stresses that the government should be tough, and even sometimes cruel. Vladimir Putin does not match the image of “an iron special services agent” created by media.

According to the author of the article, the aforementioned observations mean that Vladimir Putin does not have a distinct program of reforms. Moreover, he does not even have a distinct personnel policy. “He is distributing positions among his friends, and regions between tycoons and the military.”

However, in Tretyakov’s opinion, the aforementioned flaws are just explainable and resolvable weaknesses. According to him, “the Putin project has proved to be a fortunate one, but there is no point to wring 150% of profit from it instead of 100%.” Currently, the government’s primary task is to use the “Putin project” for launching a new project called “Russia.” Therefore, Tretyakov asserts that it is definitely worth voting for Putin in 2004.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta editor-in-chief says “Russia needs Putin as an instrument for normal and effective reforms. The tests of this tool were not bad. It’s time to use it for real business.”

Igor Bunin, head of the Political Techniques Center, has called Putin “a tough manager with an officer’s discipline” in his interview with Vek.

Bunin says reinforcement of the presidential hierarchy and corresponding weakening of other political institutions has led to the fact that an opposition to the Kremlin has become unlikely. However, having considerably reduced autonomy of political players, Putin has made them seek effective means of self-protection.

For instance, tycoons, who have withdrawn from public politics, have set up a certain coalition within the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. This coalition is able to pressure not only the Cabinet, but also the president. Besides, tycoons have moved to regions, they have found a new field of activities.

Even Berezovsky and Gusinsky have partially retained their influence in the country, although they are in exile now. Berezovsky owns TV-6, and Gusinsky has shifted some of his media to a new media group based on Segodnya, Itogi, and the TV company TNT.

Igor Bunin says it is evidently impossible “to gain control of everyone and construct a certain architectural structure, in which everyone will have their own functions and is ready to fulfill an order.” Yeltsin’s notorious “checks and balances system” has moved from top to bottom. “Currently, participants of this system do not want to be called the opposition any longer but want to be autonomous.”

In the opinion of Igor Bunin, Vladimir Putin combines opposite qualities. He is a lion and a fox at once. He is not like Boris Yeltsin, who used to be a typical lion as president, and preferred to solve problems with one blow.

It is worth noting that Putin does not act like a lion very often. The only examples of his lion-like behavior were his persistent battle against Gusinsky and his destruction of the Federation Council.

Putin more often acts like a fox. His favorite method is a method of trial and error. He acts in a straightforward way if he is sure that no one will oppose him. Otherwise, his actions depend on the situation, and he can even backtrack if necessary.

However, the president never forgets the gains of any campaign.

Igor Bunin comes to the conclusion that expecting extraordinary measures from the president is futile. “Russia does not need such measures. The current situation in Russia requires not dictatorship but at least elementary order and a new ideology of a pragmatic state. In this sense Putin is just the person the country has been waiting for.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta has published a selection of opinions of leaders of Duma factions about the president.

Unity leader Boris Gryzlov: “The society has united around the presidential policy now. This policy is aimed at effective government combined with economic liberties.”

Leader of Russian Regions Oleg Morozov: “As a citizen and politician, I feel that the government has a will and persistence to conduct some reforms. However, the system of making decisions is not quite clear. It is not clear what is the government’s goal, how it will reach this goal, and what strategy the president and his team are using today.”

Leader of People’s Deputy Gennady Raikov: “What was the president elected for? He was elected to make people happy. If every family feels a considerable material bonus on the second year of his presidency, everyone will be glad.”

Chairman of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov: “I’d say the main problem connected with Putin is absence of new people in the government. He trusts only those with whom he worked in intelligence or in Sobchak’s team.”

Deputy Chairman of the Yabloko faction Sergei Ivanenko: “Of course, this was Putin’s year. His main success was the fact that people began to trust the government. However, the government did not use this credit of trust effectively enough.”

Alexei Mitrofanov, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party: “We had expected more resolute changes from him, but he does everything very slowly.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, a member of Fatherland-All Russia: “Among the unsolved problems I’d highlight the economic bloc. It is also not clear what is in store for Chechnya.”

Coordinator of the Communist Party faction Sergei Reshulsky: This was the year of missed chances. I mean the economy and the general social spirit of the society.”

Many politicians stress that he is more successful with foreign political actions that economic reforms. However, Putin is criticized for his foreign policy too. For instance, Director of the Institute of Systemic Analysis Vitaly Tsygichko has called Putin’s foreign political results as failures in his interview with the newspaper Segodnya. “Practically all foreign political initiatives of the past year came into conflict with Russia’s interests. I mean Russia’s efforts in the Iran direction and the desire to set up a sort of an anti-American block… China is evidently playing its own game. Europe does not understand Russia. Japan is offended with Russia. the country is practically isolated.”

Vitaly Tsygichko considers that Russia does not have any serious foreign political doctrine. “We continue to irritate the whole civilized world, having to special capacities for it.” Tsygichko warns that if Russia continues this policy, it will become an outcast country.

In another article on this topic Segodnya asserts that specificity of Putin’s method of ruling can be easily explained by specificity of his biography. The newspaper states, “Putin came to post-perestroika Russia from East Germany without having reconstructed his consciousness. His youth passed in the 1970’s, and he absorbed all ideological dogmas of that time. When changes were underway in Russia, he was behind the “iron curtain.” Therefore, democratic values as pathetic for his as the Soviet patriotism and internationalism. “Like most of the 1970s generation, the president is a pragmatist adopting the reality for himself.” Currently, he is trying to employ professional skills of a special agent along with the experience of his work in Germany. Segodnya notes that unfortunately, it is practically impossible to create such an ideal state that our president wants to create. “The fact that the people have realized this seems to be the main lesson of the first year of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.”

Ksenia Ponomareva, Putin’s deputy campaign manager, gives a curious answer to the question “Who is Mr. Putin?” in her interview with Kommersant. According to her, when the election campaign was launched, people did not know Putin at all and did not need to know him. Phrases like “kill them in the toilets” were enough to create a certain image.

Ponomareva says image-makers did not have much to do at that time. “I used to say that the less he moved the better. Absence of promotion is also a propagandist trick, but it should be relevantly used.” According to her, Putin was a rare case: “He was the second person in Russia’s history after Nikolai the Second who did not aspire for power but was to get it. This was very interesting from the psychological point of view.”

This fact lies behind certain peculiarities of Putin’s current behavior. “He is not a public politician. He does not have a thick skin suitable for every public politician. His subordinates are reminding him that another election is in store for him in three years. But he does not want to remember it. He does not want to waste his energy on gaining somebody’s love.”

Hence the problems in his relations with media. “He is not an enemy to freedom of speech. But he cannot put up with the fact that his actions can be publicly discussed.” This explanation of Putin’s disagreements with journalists sounds convincing. However, such a position looks strange for a president.

Editor-in-Chief of Moskovskie Novosti Viktor Loshak asks, “Has Putin’s riddle, i.e. the riddle of Yeltsin’s choice, been solved over the past year? Who is winning in his internal dual: a soldier from Andropov’s agency, or Sobchak’s loyal aide?” When does Putin tell the truth: when he is complaining about difficulties of combating corruption in Russia or when he sets up new bureaucratic structures? “Perhaps Putin’s extremely high rating after the first year of his presidency is explained by this sum of opposites.”

Viktor Loshak notes that some Russian politicians have called Putin “Mr. Teflon.” “Chechnya is on his conscience, as well as the Kursk, but his rating is still rising. However, another explanation for his high rating is the absence of any clear alternative. Apparently, only outsiders are left on the Russian political field.”

Judging from articles devoted to the first anniversary of Putin’s presidency, Russian media have not found a distinct answer to the question who Mr. Putin is. As has been noted, his high rating causes a lot of preditions of his imminent collapse. At the same time, the past year of his presidency has made the new president’s abilities clearer. People’s hopes and fears have become clearer too. Apparently, “the time of great expectations” is not over yet. And Mr. Teflon is able to come up with new surprises for the nation.

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