Vladimir Putin was the hand-picked successor of Boris Yeltsin and was elected as the president of the Russian Federation in 2000. After earning a law degree in 1975, Putin joined the KGB, the security force of the former Soviet Union. He spent years working primarily in East Germany, then left the service in 1991 and became active in the politics of St. Petersburg. He was brought to Moscow by Yeltsin in 1996 and served as an administrator in the Kremlin and an official for the security organizations which replaced the KGB.
In 1999, Putin became Yeltsin’s fifth prime minister in 17 months, and then became acting president when Yeltsin left office. He was officially elected to the office in 2000 and then re-elected in a landslide vote in March of 2004 (Montinola 148). Putin moved quickly to reassert the central government’s authority over the various republics, regions, and other administrative units and has sought to exert control over elements of the independent media. He also has worked to revamp, and reduce the size of, the military.
He won enactment of liberal economic reforms and ratification of international arms agreements, while also renewing ties with former Soviet client states and maintaining Russia’s strong opposition to proposed U. S. ballistic missile defenses (Fish 119). Although Putin has been, in the main, popular with the Russian public, his reputation suffered when he was perceived to have acted belatedly after the Russian submarine Kursk sank in Aug. , 2000 (Baker 27).
By the end of his second year in office, however, the Russian president’s position had visibly strengthened, as he became apparently successful in stabilizing the government and the economy, the latter achieved in part through banking, labor, and private-property reforms and in part through a fortuitous rise in oil prices (Russia’s principal export). Legal reforms gave greater protection to the accused and increased powers to judges, bringing Russian judicial practice more in line with that of the West. In 2001 and 2002, Putin criticized, but accepted, the U.
S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty as it proceeded with its development of its missile defense system, while signing a treaty reducing the number of U. S. and Russian nuclear warheads and establishing closer relations with the United States and NATO. Many reforms that had been enacted faltered in their enforcement in the second half of Putin’s term, or were not built upon. Russia’s regions and provinces managed to resist central government control in many instances, and Chechnya remains an ongoing, festering problem. Putin was reelected in Mar.
, 2004, in an election that European observers criticized as unfair (Baker 257). Putin subsequently obtained changes that allowed him to appoint regional and provincial governors, increasing the central government’s control over the federation’s constituents. Given this background, the policies of Putin can now be assessed. This analysis will cover some of the most influential and questionable policies of Putin during his tenure as the president of Russia. The first issue is the way that Putin has dealt with welfare policies in Russia.
According to various Russian and western media reports, Putin is extremely concerned about the ongoing demographic problems (death rate being higher than birth rate and immigration rate), cyclical poverty, and housing concerns within the Russian Federation. In 2005, four “national projects” were launched in the fields of healthcare, education, housing and agriculture (Hanson 660). In his May 2006 annual speech, Putin proposed increasing maternity benefits and prenatal care for women.
While these developments in the Russian policy on healthcare have had a fair degree of success, it cannot be properly and completely assessed without first examining the economic policies of Putin since these have a direct effect on the ability of the Russian government to implement these welfare policies. The Russian economy has grown strongly under Putin, thanks mainly to the good luck of sustained high oil prices, but helped too by sound macroeconomic policies (Hanson 661).
Foreign investors, forgetting that they were badly burnt by Russia’s default in 1998, have flocked back. But the imminent demise of Yukos and the evidence that Putin is more interested in reasserting state control over the economy than in pursuing economic liberalization are making many pause once again (Hanson 670). But the attack on Yukos, the best-run and most western-looking of Russian companies, was the worst cure of all: capricious, selective and motivated by politics not the rule of law.
Fears that it might presage attacks on other companies seem confirmed by this week’s news of an abrupt tax claim on VimpelCom, a telecoms firm. Businessmen in Moscow say that, far from Putin’s new order helping to squeeze out corruption, it is now more pervasive than in the worst of the Yeltsin years. Corruption lies at the heart of many of Russia’s most intractable problems, from the poor state of the army, to the war in Chechnya, to its ineffective policing and counter-terrorism (Montinola 152).
Putin has admitted that many Russians might fear the police more than they do criminals. But his efforts to tackle corruption have been half-hearted at best—and, because he has fostered more state control and little respect for the rule of law, he has created precisely the conditions in which corruption thrives best. Meanwhile, the pro-business reforms promised for his second term are largely in limbo (Montinola 153). Russia’s notorious “oligarchs” have also been tamed. Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, two of the most unco-operative, are in exile.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on trial for fraud and tax evasion, has been in prison since his arrest in October 2003. And Yukos, the oil company Mr Khodorkovsky once ran, looks set to be eviscerated when most of Yuganskneftegaz, its oil-production subsidiary, is sold on December 19th. What remains of Yukos may also be seized, to requite alleged tax debts of some $25 billion. The near-certain purchaser of Yugansk is Gazprom, the state-run gas monopoly. Swallowing Yugansk will turn Gazprom into an energy behemoth that serves Russia’s foreign-policy interests even more powerfully (Montinola 148).
Mr Putin is emerging more and more as a tactician, not a strategist. Economic reform, for example, has stalled since high oil prices offered an easier path to growth. His commitment to democracy now looks to be a tactic too. He may not yet have decided what to do in 2008. Boris Nemtsov, co-founder of a committee set up to make sure he leaves on schedule, says that, if he does want to stick around, international obloquy would give him greater pause than domestic opinion.
European and American leaders would react badly to a restructuring of the government, and with horror to a change in the constitution (Baker 375). Perhaps one of the most controversial policies of Putin is directly related to Putin’s rise to public office in August 1999 which also coincided with an aggressive resurgence of the near-dormant conflict in the North Caucasus, when Chechen nationalists regrouped and invaded neighboring Dagestan.
Both in Russia and abroad, Putin’s public image was forged by his tough handling of this dire challenge (Fish 125). His war in Chechnya was hugely popular, but its brutality also raised real questions about Putin’s commitment to human rights. References: Baker, Peter and Glasser, Susan Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution Scribner Book Company May 2005 464 pages Fish, Steven Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp.
119-127. Hanson, Philip and Teague, Elizabeth “Big Business and the State in Russia,” Europe-Asia Studies, 57, 5:657-680, July 2005 Montinola, Gabriella and Jackman, Robert “Sources of Corruption: A Cross-Country Study,” British Journal of Political Science Vol. 32, 2002, 147-170 Putin, Vladimir First Person, Public Affairs, 2000, 208 pp. (collection of interviews). Russian title: Ot Pervogo Litsa. Razgovory s Vladimirom Putinym (From the First Person. Conversations with Vladimir Putin), Moscow, Vagrius, 2000.
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