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Still Putin Up With Vladimir

from the May 08, 2012 eNews issue



Vladimir Putin swapped jobs with Dmitry Medvedev, returning to Russia's presidency on Monday after a 4-year stint as prime minister. Moscow police detained more than 700 protestors during the first two days of the week, arresting an additional 20 people on Tuesday before the Duma voted to confirm Medvedev to his new post. Russia has used elections to position its top leaders, but true representative government may not yet be the reality in this former communist state.

"The attitude to business in this country must change drastically," Medvedev said Tuesday before the vote in the State Duma, the lower house, while outside police camouflaged in riot garb guarded the Kremlin. The new prime minister does not have as much official power as he did as the president of the Russian Federation, but the reality is that Putin has remained the overriding leader in Moscow regardless of his official title. Putin has again taken the top seat of authority in the country, which includes command of the military.

After the Duma vote. Putin took his second day in his new office to outline the program he would use to build up Russia's $1.9 trillion dollar economy. A primary matter of concern has been the country's dependence on its energy exports. There is a fear that if the price of oil drops, so will Russia's revenue, and there is an awareness that the country needs to move its eggs around into a variety of baskets. Putin described a series of goals for his next six years in office, to raise wages for state workers, pave the road for more business, create 25 million jobs by 2020 and push capital investment up to more than 25 percent of the GDP. He said the government would reduce the cost of mortgages, expand kindergartens and improve health care. (Maybe he'll improve kindergartens and expand health care.)

The two leaders offered speeches to encourage the Russian people, completely avoiding the inconvenient reality of thousands of protestors outside accusing the government of fraudulent elections.

Russia is not in a pretty place. More than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, crime is still high and, by Western standards, poverty pervades. The traditional Russian mafia has moved into cybercrime, and cyber thieves collected $4 billion in stolen funds in 2011. Putin is far beyond the place of caution, of true power sharing. Medvedev and the Kremlin may exist, but, by all appearances, Putin's 13 years of rule have pumped a drug into his veins as addicting as any sold on the streets. The love of power keeps autocrats at the helm even as high winds beyond their control drive their countries through shallow, rocky seas.

Medvedev did get confirmed to the position of prime minister, as promised by Putin in exchange for stepping down from the presidency, but against more resistance than the younger Medvedev would have hoped. Nearly a third of the Duma voted against him, with Nikolai Levichev of the minority Just Russia Party saying, "We want to consolidate Russian society, but only on the basis of our own social democratic platform. That is why our faction today has decided in the selection of the prime minister to vote against the leader of the party that we consider our political and ideological opponent," according to The New York Times. Putin and Medvedev's United Russia party lost its constitutional majority in the Russian Parliament in December's elections. (At least Medvedev did receive the honor of a unanimous "nay" vote from the Communist Party members.)

Medvedev's political ambition is not as outwardly determined as Putin's. While Medvedev handled harsh questioning with patience, Putin responded to the critical Duma with rebukes of his own. The New York Times quoted a not-so-subtle verbal glower Putin made at his political enemies: "I am sure that the work of the government and the Parliament will be constructive despite the well-known opposition of some deputies in this hall."

Political opponents are not at the top of the government's true problem list. Medvedev promised to fight corruption in Moscow, but the prime minister is hardly a hot enough fever to kill this disease. It's more than a simple infection; it's a gangrene that has reached into every cell in the system so that The Center For Strategic and International Studies published on May 4, 2012 the statement, "that Russia is on the verge of becoming a criminal syndicalist state, dominated by a lethal mix of gangsters, corrupt officials, and dubious businessmen." According to CSIS, Russian organized crime isn't contained by borders; the Russian mafia has its bruising fingerprints all over Paul Tatum's assassination in Moscow, New York financial scams, European auto-theft rings and Nigerian drugs. Moscow might want to improve investment in Russia, but investors are hesitant to pour money into a country rife with rottenness.

Considering the depth of the organized crime problem in his country, it is hard to imagine that Putin himself is free of its vicious grip. The Guardian in 2010 reported Wikileaks information that Putin himself worked in cooperation with the mafia, making use of the underworld lords to keep his vice-grip on the country. Putin was accused of using law enforcement to protect the organized criminal networks, encouraging bribery as form of income for the police and officials, and using money gained through criminal activity to promote his own office.

The Kremlin is hardly innocent, where bribes, kickbacks, and "protection" funds feed the political organism. Considering the stakes, the thousands of people outside the Kremlin clamoring against election fraud are likely justified, especially considering Putin's maneuvering to regain the presidency. If Putin is willing to unabashedly wiggle through the loopholes of Russia's laws on term limits, there is little doubt that his desire to hang onto power might involve less than forthright oversight of the country's voting system. 

Related Links

- With Some Dissent, Russia's Parliament Confirms Medvedev - The New York Times
- Russian Police Clash With Demonstrators Trying To March On Kremlin - Radio Free Europe
- Putin Again Takes Reins Of A Changed, Agitated Russia - USA Today
- Goodspeed Analysis: Protests Set Tone For Putin's New Term As President - National Post
- Putin's History Lesson - The Wall Street Journal
- Putin and Medvedev Complete Job Swap in Russia - Reuters
- Russian Organized Crime - CSIS
- Wikileaks Cables Condemn Russia As 'Mafia State' - The Guardian
- Russian Cyber Criminals Rake in Billions - ABC News

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