PUTIN THE SECOND PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: UNBIASED APPRAISAL OF HIS PERFORMANCE AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS WILL BE POSSIBLE AT SOME LATER DATE
Analysis of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.
The first and the second presidents of Russia are usually seen as antipodes but they are not. Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin promoted one and the same objective to the best of their abilities and in accordance with their understanding of what it implied. Both endeavored to make Russia an active participant in international affairs again. Moreover, Putin specifically aimed at integration of Russia into the Western system so as to make it a fully fledged participant in it. This assumption is confirmed by a good deal of important statements and moves made between 2000 and 2006.
These gestures and offers were neither understood or appreciated. Perhaps, the Western community did not take Russia seriously because of the scope of the problems this country was facing, disturbing trends in its domestic policy, and not exactly splendid prospects of development. Or else, the leading Western countries lacked the necessary strategic mentality and ambitions to adequately accept the vista of opportunities opening before them.
Also importantly, it was a period of rapid deterioration of the global situation, a period when erosion of the international system could no longer be ignored. The situation being what it was, world powers and international alliances were focused on reinforcement of their own positions (political, economic, military). This tunnel vision did not facilitate cooperation, of course.
The second part of Putin’s decade that began in 2006-2007 is remembered for the strengthening feelings of disappointment, disgust, and distrust. By and large, Putin concentrated on advancement of the country’s own potential in the hope to prepare for any turn of events in international politics. It enabled Russia to increase its weight in global affairs and make the rest of the world take it more seriously than it had been doing before. At the same time, the potential of external resistance and alienation of Russia from the rest of the international community rose non-proportionally to the increase of Russian influence.
This is what Putin’s Paradox is about. The second president failed to accomplish what he had set out to do – partially due to his own shortcomings (his quaint notions of what international communications were supposed to constitute, for example) and partially to unfavorable circumstances. At the same time, he succeeded in what he had never aspired to accomplish and in what was a reaction to the lack of success with his initial agenda. Again, he succeeded partially on his own and partially due to the rapid developments in international affairs in the early 21st century.
Russia’s foreign policy was quite personified in the days of Putin, particularly at the close of his reign. Personal relationships with foreign leaders developed over the years of presidency began to outweigh purely pragmatic considerations. Personal traits in the meantime became decisive in determination of Russia’s behavior in international affairs. Hence the strengthening conviction abroad that Russia is unpredictable. Emotionality of the leader is always more eye-catching than the conceptual base of foreign political approaches, fairly logical and stable as the latter might be.
Ruling a country in a period of profound changes, no man can count on objective appraisal of his efforts and performance. Putin’s decade on the pinnacle of political power is no exception. It will be possible to gauge its genuine results for Russia and its international standing only at some later day, when the current emotions (both flattering reverence and unfair demonization) stop being a factor.
What was primary? Putin’s policy that stirred appropriate reaction abroad or the situation itself that demanded certain steps and actions from the Russian leader? Somebody will probably be able to find an answer to this question, but it is not going to happen right away. Whatever else he is, Putin is like other heads of states in the early 21st century. He is a personification of general tendencies that are present everywhere but that are perhaps less prominent elsewhere.
Putin likes to emphasize that he is beyond and apart from ideologies, but the role of ideology in international politics is diminishing worldwide and giving way to classic relations between different states. Putin is being condemned for revival of the spirit of political rivalry and confrontation. What is setting him apart in the meantime is that he is unusually straightforward in speech and direct in action. Last but not the least, Putin is regularly criticized for penchant for flair and symbolism. So what? Even that does not merit comment considering PR- and glamor-techniques used (abused) in the policies of world powers.
Whatever the verdict of history, the second president of Russia is inseparable from the period Russia and the world beyond were living in with him in the driver’s seat in Moscow – a period of transition to some new and somewhat obscure destination.