Putin's Russia, 9/1/08
On August 8th, 2008, a cold war style conflict erupted between Russia and its neighbor Georgia. With the U.S. aligned with Georgia and oil interests in the mix, the dispute has focused the attention of the international community. Join Active Minds as we take a look at where Russia appears to be heading under the influence of Vladimir Putin. Earlier in 2008, Putin relinquished the Presidency he had held since 2000, as required by the Russian constitution. His hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev promptly named Putin Prime Minister, setting the stage for a puppet Presidency and the continuation of Putin’s hard line politics and centralized control.
Key Lecture Points:
• In August 2008, the Georgian military began an offensive into the its breakaway province of South Ossetia. Russia responded by sending troops into South Ossetia and then eventually further into Georgian territory. Asked about the causes of the conflict with its former Soviet Republic neighbour, Vladimir Putin said, "Georgia's aspiration to join NATO ... is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures."
• Although Putin is no longer President, but is Prime Minister, he is still widely considered Russia’s leader. By now, Putin has been in office for almost ten years, having been appointed by Boris Yeltsin in 1999 as Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter President, once Yeltsin resigned.
• During Putin’s tenure in both offices, he has sought to attain economic development for Russia, while also seeking to maintain its traditional values. Madeleine Albright noticed two strands in Putin’s thinking: an interest in the economic advancement of a capitalist Russia, and an emphasis on “Communist values”
• Putin has had a special role to play in shaping the office of the Russian presidency in the years since the end of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin, the first post-Soviet president, set Russia on a course toward democratization and free market capitalism. His tenure, however, was marred by corruption and graft that led some to label Russia as a “kleptocracy”, dominated by the few politically connected people who managed to by off the assets of Soviet Russia.
• While many countries in Eastern Europe also share in similar struggles with the post-Communist transition, Russia’s struggle poses some unique challenges, being the “giant” behind the previous communist trans-national order. Putin’s regime expresses this unique struggle: “Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Observers of Russia in the 21st century could surely say the same of the country’s president, Vladimir Putin.”
• Russia’s foreign policy is formidable on the world stage. While this was easier to pinpoint during the Cold War, when the U.S.’s and the U.S.S.R.’s ideologies were diametrically opposed, Russia continues to be influential today. Particularly notable in this context are Russia’s continued opposition to Kosovar and Chechen independence, as well as prickly relations with the US and EU, whose leaders have both voiced concern over the lack of democratic freedoms in Russia. In addition, the conflict in the former Soviet Republic, Georgia must be seen as a reflection of Russia’s resurgence and its desire to maintain its status as a regional and world power.
• Russia’s tendency towards central authority seems to continue despite the end of imperial rule. What kind of explanation might we give for this phenomenon?
• How important is the charisma of a leader to his/her capacity to rule?
• The youngest adults today (age 18) were born in 1990 when the Soviet Union had just ended, while some of the oldest (age 90) were born in 1918 just at the end of WWI and just after the Russian Revolution. The context we are born in makes a difference to our perceptions of it: when were you born in relation to the Soviet Union? How do you think this affected your perceptions of the new Russian presidency in the early 1990s?
• In your view, has Putin contributed to making a new Russia? Or is he just continuing a tradition?
More to Explore:
• BBC Coverage of Russia: http://news.bbc.co.uk
• US State Department on Russia: http://www.state.gov
Books For Further Reading:
• Putin, Vladimir. First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President. Public Affairs, 2000 208 pages. An intimate, candid portrait of the man who holds the future of Russia in his grip. The book delves deep into Putin's KGB past and explores his meteoric rise to power. Click here to order.
• Politkovskaya, Anna. Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy. Macmillan, 2005 274 pages. Hailed as “a lone voice crying out in a moral wilderness” (New Statesman), Anna Politkovskaya made her name with her fearless reporting on the war in Chechnya. Putin’s Russia depicts a far-reaching state of decay. Click here to order.