Tag Archives: Putin

Russia’s Autocrats – Part 4 of 4 Autocracy’s New Clothes

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Coiled Viper

Coiled Viper

Vladimir Putin 1952-

Vladimir Putin was a KGB Officer when Boris Yeltsin plucked him out of obscurity and gave him the reins of power. He had no government or administrative experience. Did Yeltsin realize that he had picked up a cold and coiled viper that could strike at any time? Putin believed that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. He started his reign in the new millennium intent on restoring its past glories. High oil prices helped him by helping the economy grow.

But plain unadorned autocracy was no longer in fashion and had to be camouflaged as democracy. The State Duma became the Legislative body which Putin quickly tamed. A judiciary system entirely under his control was put in place and opposition parties were quickly declawed. A government as false as a beautiful Potemkin village was created. The trompe l’oeil was perfect.

After serving 2 terms Putin was ineligible for reelection in 2008. He then selected Dmitri Medvedev to keep his seat warm for 4 years and himself became Prime Minister. From this position, he extended the Presidential term which allowed him to magically reappear having manipulated the system until it fell in line with his ambitions.

Vladimir Putin started by dismantling the power of the new oligarchs. Any attempt at meddling in politics was nipped in the bud. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was then the richest man in Russia, head of Yukos, an oil company formed during the privatization of the 1990s. As soon as Khodorkovsky showed any interest in politics he was charged with fraud and tax evasion and promptly exiled. Viktor Gusinsky, a media tycoon was arrested for misappropriation of funds and imprisoned. Sergei Magnitsky was an auditor at a Moscow law firm and uncovered a massive fraud by tax officials and police officers. He was arrested for reporting this to the authorities and died in custody at the age of 37. These are only a few examples of the clampdown on any opposition.

Next came the press and the intelligentsia. Liberal parties like Parnas and Yabloko slowly died. Election results were manipulated so that political opponents like Alexei Navalny were prevented from winning elections because results were manipulated. Navalny himself spent five years in a corrective labor colony. Those in the press who had described Putin’s party, United Russia, as a party of thieves and crooks simply disappeared. There is now only one television channel which broadcasts the news and it is entirely controlled by the state.

Political murder is also employed with increasing frequency. Journalists have become prone to mysterious fatal accidents. Alexander Litvinenko who defected to Britain died of radiation poisoning by polonium. His slow death was shown on television for many days. Boris Nemtsov, a Putin opponent, was gunned down on the streets of Moscow. Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist from Novaya Gazeta and a human rights activist was found dead on the stairs outside her home. At least 21 other journalists have died under suspicious circumstances. Judges have been murdered for not following instructions.

Putin’s Russia is suffering from the sanctions imposed after his incursion in Ukraine and from the collapse of the ruble because of low oil prices. Corruption is rampant, everything is for sale. Putin is left in the difficult position of denying any wrongdoing such as the downing of a civilian aircraft over Ukraine’s territory and the state controlled doping of athletes. The latest blow has been the deliberate targeting of civilians during the massive bombing of Aleppo. The United Nations is now labeling this as a war crime. All this seems to have caused an increased belligerence on Putin’s part. It also seems to have had the effect of increasing his popularity at home.

It seems that many Russians don’t mind living in an autocracy.

One Gets Away with it. Others may not.


The Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca, with 600 employees in 42 countries, is devoted to helping its wealthy clients hide their income. They have facilitated money-laundering, the defeat of protective regulations and ultimately, the evasion of taxes. Until recently, this has all taken place away from the prying eyes of the curious.

Then, just ten days ago, a group of 4oo journalists, after a year of work in secret, made public over 9 million Mossack Fonseca documents, lifting the lid on these nefarious and unsavory transactions. Now the game is on to see who has been caught in the trap. The resulting scandal is called the Panama Papers. Some world leaders are suddenly appearing in the nude. They include Chinese, Arab, Ukrainians and a long list of others. Some have already resigned including the Prime Minister of Iceland.

This huge net has also reeled in the name of Vladimir Putin. Rumors about his vast hidden fortune have been circulating for years, but his financial dealings are well disguised. His name is not on any paper. Many of his associates are named but no spotlight shines on him. Officially the Kremlin is waging a war against corruption and money laundering.

A few days ago Vladimir Vladimirovich staged his mammoth annual Press Conference. Enthroned in his comfortable swiveling chair, a beatific smile on his face, he chatted amiably with the press surrounding him. He had no notes. He does not need them. This event has been well prepared, rehearsed and staged. Putin answers pre-screened and vetted questions. What he has to say about the Mossack Fonseca “revelations” is that they are a vast smear campaign led and orchestrated by non-other than the United States, which wants to discredit him, alienate him from his people and undermine the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Many Russian people swallow this fairy tale. Many others cynically believe that even if Putin has stashed a fortune somewhere, well, every leader does it, so it is fine with them.

Heads may be rolling around him, but Putin may yet emerge from this with a halo.

Things are different in England where the Panama Papers revealed that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, inherited from his father some interests in Mossack Fonseca. Cameron now admits that he did indeed own shares, but that he and his wife liquidated them when he came to power. He also promises to disclose documents showing that they payed taxes on the dividends. Even if nothing illegal took place, there is an aura of sleaziness and Cameron is facing serious challenges to his leadership.

What explains the discrepancy in the reactions in Britain and in Russia? We are tempted to say that the British have a long history of honorable political conduct and
an ethical political code to fall back on. Even more true is the they have a rival political party, the “loyal opposition,” which will exploit any apparent weakness on the other side.

This news is in rapid motion and it is only 10 days old. How many other shoes will be dropping? We await with interest.

editor’s note: You are strongly encouraged to enter a comment below. Simone greatly appreciates your responses.

Charlie Rose Interviews Vladimir Putin


Vladimir Putin was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg. Putin was in his home town, amid the splendors of Tsarist Russia, very much at ease and in an expansive mood. He, Charlie Rose and other invited guests were seated on an elevated platform facing an audience ready to applaud his every utterance. He was speaking directly to them. Charlie Rose, on the other hand, had to turn sideways to ask his questions. He was not comfortably ensconced at his usual round table.

Putin used this forum to talk about Ukraine at great length. He put his own spin on the situation there and to anyone who had not followed the events as they happened, he might have sounded totally believable. Putin prefaced his remarks by explaining that Russian ad Ukraine were one people speaking the same language, sharing the same origins, ethnicity and history. According to him, Ukraine was directly responsible for creating the current situation by refusing to honor a treaty with Russia. According to him, the Maidan popular revolt, which he called a revolution, was to blame because it lead to the coup d’état which ousted President Yanukovych and resulted in the discontent in Donetsk and Lugansk. (Applause!).

Regarding U.S.-Russia relations he noted that the U.S. likes to impose its own standards everywhere. He also cited the American unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Putin likes to use the phrase “our partners” when speaking of the US and the West, but he obviously has no interest in partnership. Regarding sanctions, Putin explained that they have made Russia adjust to the new realities and rethink some of its policies. He cited the 108 foreign countries attending the economic forum and the 200 investment agreements signed.

Asked what Russia intended to do about Syria , he quickly seized the ball and ran with it. What a superb occasion to explain that Russia does not interfere in the affairs of sovereign states and that the fate of Syria was in Syrian hands. He lost no opportunity in pointing out that the current disaster in the Middle East was the direct result of the American invasion of Iraq and the West’s destabilizing of Libya. There were no jihadists there before the so-called Arab Spring. (Alas true! Thank you George W.)

Putin has a black belt in Judo. I am awarding him a black belt in verbal combat. He is so glib and plausible that I have to remind myself that this amiable man who does not shout or pound the table (he did not have one) is actually all the more dangerous because of it. I had a hard time withholding my admiration at this performance.
Putin is not afraid to say anything he pleases and Charlie Rose was entirely too polite in letting him get away with it.
He did not do his usual pouncing and pointing out how events contradicted his statements. Someone like the late pugnacious Mike Wallace might have done a better job.

When Rose used the word aggression, Putin retorted that Russia was not aggressive, it was persistent.
Charlie Rose was visibly impressed with Vladimir Putin.

So am I, though for different reasons.