Putin and Russia.

by Kirill Sakharov

Essay about state of Russia at 2005. Interesting historic accountant considering 2016 situation of anti Russia hysteria because liberals cannot stand to lose and need enemy de jure.

Relations between Russia and the United States have drastically changed over the course of the century reflecting, in some way, the path of their internal development.

Russia had changed from monarchy, to communism, to superpower, to a newborn capitalist country trying to find its footing and identity, while the U.S. had stayed the course of free market, capitalism, and democracy over time. To understand current relations between the countries, recent history has to be considered to see the roots of each country’s view.

Russia and the United States began the 20th century being in relatively tense relations. They were not open allies and did not trade actively.
Even though they fought on the same side in the First World War, the United States still refused to consider Russia a strong ally. After the end of the war Russia turned to Communism and became the Soviet Union.

Through the Second World War United States and the Soviet Union were again allies against Germany and the Axis powers. This alliance was again full of tension due to the United States’ dislike of the communist philosophy but Hitler’s Nazis obviously presented a much greater threat. In fact there was a lot of opposition right after the Second World War over the division of Germany and Europe in general. The confrontation lasted over until the 90’s and it spanned many topics of disagreement over those years.

That stretch is usually called the Cold War due to the fact that the Soviet Union and the United States were the only ones possessing a plethora of nuclear stock for a long period of time.

Only the fact that any conflict would lead to mutual assured destruction stopped the war from ever getting “hot” and moving into open conflict. It was a cultural, covert and economic competition that escalated to the edge of military conflict only a few times, most notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

After all those episodes, however, the two nations have become strong allies. At the command of Russia stands Vladimir Putin. As Lo put it,

…Putin now commands an authority unprecedented since the death of Stalin in 1953. It is somewhat ironic that the post-soviet era, with its powerful images of democracy and freedom, should give rise to a man whose political standing and control over policy exceeds that of more ‘authoritative figures of the past, such as Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. (Lo, 2)

Yet Russia could not be better handled and its relations with the U.S. could not be more favorable. Especially post September 11, the United States’ attitude towards Russia’s dealings in Chechnya has improved significantly, since it has naturally begun to be considered to be a part of the United States proposed war on terror. All these factors, like the “Putin phenomenon” (Lo), the steady growth and development of both Russia and its relations with the U.S. all have many causes. The global view of Russia transforming from an incompetent, chaotic country to a developing, formidable and determined power can be followed by narrating the years of the Putin administration.

Vladimir Putin came to power very quickly. He had not spent nearly as much time in government as other politicians who hope to vie to presidency in their lifetime, yet he has, in the few years he had been involved with Russia’s government, become president and won two reelections. A career KGB agent, Putin came to power when Russia’s situation in most respects, could not have been worse. The economy was still feeling the effects of the 1998 financial crisis, the government was in disarray, and Russia looked bad to most other countries in terms of foreign relations. Due to the lack of direction that was apparent during Yelstin’s administration, Putin’s expectations for his tenure could have been easily fulfilled if he simply gave the country a definite direction. To say that Putin has given Russia direction is to make an understatement. Putin has consolidated a great amount of power. During his tenure, Putin has gained control of most media corporations in Russia, restructured the selection of regional governors to be non-democratic, discouraged non government corporations and allegedly fixed the 2003 Parliamentary elections.

The public, however, has shown no negative reaction to his actions. Putin’s approval rating is sky high, and the country is rapidly developing. The economy is considered to be the fastest growing economy in the world and the Russian people do not seem to have much to complain about in that respect.

Another issue that has gotten better during Putin tenure is Russia’s relations with the U.S. The United States has a pretty favorable opinion of Putin and Russia at this point, with President Bush quoted as saying many positive things about Putin. The fact that Bush’s closest aide is Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of Defense and current secretary of State, had low opinions of Russia presented obstacles for Putin in establish good relations with America. Considering that Rice thinks that a high U.S. priority should be to “manage Moscow” (Rice) and that she was against the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty from the very start(Rice) later influencing Bush to withdraw, the Putin administration has been allowed to roam freely, with the U.S.’s changing attitude towards Chechnya being a good example.

Putin managed to solve Russia’s identity problem as well. At the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia did not really know which model to follow.

As the Soviet system began to decline, America as a model began to look attractive, even natural. Post-Soviet Russia originally sought to achieve a double feat, remaining a fellow superpower to the United States while borrowing U.S. institutions for their subsequent transportation onto Russian soil. (Balis  et al)

Russia wanted to retain its own identity even when modeling itself after its former rival. Such thinking led to the damaging efforts of early post-soviet Russia to become too free market and thus, a fire sale of all former government owned organizations commenced. It turned into a move that led to elites gaining more power and the government being more riddled with corruption. Putin adopted a view that most of the nation shared due to the damaging effects of the earlier attitude: “Russia is not America” (qtd. in Balis et al).

While Putin has accomplished a great deal for Russia in several respects, some doubt still remains on whether he is the best leader for Russia. Pundits on television sometimes claim that he is an aspiring dictator, that he is hurting Russian democracy and that he has nothing to do with Russia’s recent successes (Robinson). Colton writes that “As Washington scrambles to build its anti-terror coalition, it may be tempted to overlook the antidemocratic excesses of its partners. But this would be a mistake, especially when it comes to Russia” (Colton et al). While it is hard to deny that Putin is consolidating power, it is safe to argue whether it is a good thing for Russia, or the world. The critics of the Putin administration argue that he is becoming a tyrant, has no clear view of the future of Russia’s economy and has made several overlooked blunders.

While the rest of the world focuses on the negatives of Putin’s actions, the Russian public has shown only support for their president. He was reelected with a 71% vote, and polls show that the Russian public generally approves every part of his approach (Colton et al). Assuming that the mostly government directed media in Russia does not wield such drastic power over the Russian people, a pretty logical conclusion can be reached. Since the Russian people like him and the world seems to be on the wary side, the Putin administration seems to be a successful one for the Russian people and not helpful for the world. It only seems fair, since Russia has suffered the most after the collapse in the Post-Soviet era.

Initially submitted at Dec. 6, 2005; 19:10

Dec. 4, 2017; 15:43 EST

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