Russians love ‘Vlad the Bad’

40_1.jpgRUSSIANS relish President Vladimir Putin’s earthy phrases. Reacting to sharp western criticism of Russia’s parliamentary elections today, Putin, playing `Vlad the Bad’, warned western powers not to ‘poke their snotty noses’ in his nation’s business.
Putin, who has been increasingly outspoken of late, mocked President George W Bush’s double standard in accusing Russia of dubious elections, squashing opposition, and roughing up dissenters while ignoring similar behaviour by US ally Georgia. He could have also added other key US allies like Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.

President Putin is right to tell off Western critics and limit foreign observation of Russian elections. Russia is a great, historic power, not some banana republic.

If western observers are really needed to supervise votes in Moscow, Omsk and Kaluga, then why shouldn’t Russian observers supervise America’s sometimes dodgy elections?

For example, in Chicago, where the dead routinely vote; in Florida, where blacks are turned away; or Ohio where rigged voting machines gave Republicans victory in 2004 elections.

Why, in fact, keep up the pretence that Russia conducts free and fair elections. Opposition parties have almost no funding, media is government controlled, parties winning less than 7% of the vote are excluded, and there is no independent electoral commission. Today’s vote is really a referendum on President Putin’s popularity. Most polls show him with 70-80% approval, making him one of the world’s most successful and admired leaders.

Former intelligence officer Putin and his KGB old boys’ network have worked wonders for Russia. After a coup that ousted the sick, besotted Yeltsin, Putin inherited a bankrupt, demoralised nation subsisting on cash handouts from Washington. So low did ‘Weimar’ Russia sink, much of its advanced military technology was sold to the US for large cash payoffs.

Thanks to tough management, nationalisations and rising oil prices caused in large part by Bush’s foolhardy invasion of Iraq, Russia’s national income more than tripled under Putin. Equally important, Putin restored pride and a sense of dignity to this fiercely chauvinistic nation.

In the process, he centralised all power in the Kremlin, muzzled the independent press, intimidated opponents, jailed oligarchs, and created a cult of personality.

He ruthlessly crushed the life out of independence-seeking Chechnya, thrilling Muslim-hating Russians by vowing to ‘kill the Chechen bandits in their s…houses’.

Most Russians couldn’t care less about the feeble little liberal parties clamouring for western-style democracy. It’s a sad truism that Russians want order, economic progress and national pride, not democracy. Judo champion, abstemious Putin fits this bill perfectly as the historic ‘white czar’, a good, fatherly autocrat who is strong, manly, and pure.

To most Russians, ‘democracy’ is associated with the thieving oligarchs who pillaged Russia’s industries and resources during Yeltsin’s rule, and the ivory-tower economists who debauched Russia’s currency, leaving millions of pensioners to starve. Democracy is also seen by many Russians as a Trojan Horse the US used to assert financial and political influence over Russia, and later in Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia.

Putin says he wants to continue leading Russia. But he is constitutionally banned from a third presidential term. So does Putin plan to run Russia as an all-powerful prime minister, or as leader of his United Russia Party? Will he become a youthful elder statesman? Or will he change the constitution?

He may follow the example of Czar Ivan the Terrible, temporarily withdrawing from public life until throngs of supplicants beg him to return to Moscow.

Or he could just remain Citizen Vladimir Putin. The only formal title the great Deng Xiaoping held when he so brilliantly ruled China was Chairman of the Chinese Bridge Association.

Whatever Putin’s near-term political plans, he clearly intends to restore Russia’s role as a world power, and to challenge US global domination. Russia’s withdrawal last week from the European conventional arms treaty is the latest ominous sign.

President Putin wants to restore the old Soviet Union’s borders, but minus the Communist Party, which has sunk to a miserable 7% public support.

Putin believes Russia’s vast energy and mineral resources will eventually make it the world’s leading power. Only 55 years old, Putin might even live to see this triumphant day.

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