Tags: vladimir putin | russia | soviet union | boris yeltsin

Putin Stabilized His Country, Shored Up Popularity

Putin Stabilized His Country, Shored Up Popularity
A video of Russian President Vladimir Putin is displayed at a Russian history museum in Moscow on March 7, 2017, in Moscow, Russia. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 02 May 2017 11:45 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Vladimir Putin has had bad press lately. Aside from admiration expressed by Donald Trump, few Americans have had a kind word to say about him. And recently, even President Trump has backed off.

Most people have both good and bad qualities. Russian leaders have been no exception. In 1989, I visited the Moscow cemetery where Nikita Khrushchev was buried. The monument marking his grave combines white marble and black marble, symbolizing his combination of good and bad. Formerly a henchman of the brutal Josef Stalin, as top leader he tried to reform the system and began a badly needed de-Stalinization.   

A number of things about Putin's leadership merit a very positive assessment. Whether these merits are outweighed by bad things Putin has done or is suspected of doing — seizing Crimea, sending little green men to stir up trouble in Ukraine, killing journalists and political enemies — is debatable, but we should at least recognize that he is a talented leader who has accomplished a number of good things and who has some good ideas about government and world affairs.

American presidents frequently complain about the mess they inherited. But to see a truly horrible mess we need to look at Russia when Putin became president in 2000. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1992 had been followed by 9 horrible years. Ironically, given the line in the national anthem that the country was an "unbreakable union of free republics," the Soviet Union had split into 15 independent countries. New barriers to trade cut factories off from inputs produced in other parts of what was formerly one country. People of Russian nationality living in non-Russian parts of the Soviet Union often became unappreciated, resented, and discriminated-against minorities in the newly independent countries. Economies throughout the former U.S.S.R. were thrown into a shambles, and people lost their life savings when inflation destroyed the purchasing power of the ruble.

Although the Soviet crackup was relatively peaceful and bloodless, it was nonetheless a revolution which destroyed the central government, leaving a terrible power vacuum. The 15 previous union republics were the rough equivalent of our state governments, but actual power had been highly centralized in Moscow. After the central government disappeared, many parts of the resulting countries had no effective government at all. One of my former students, in Kiev doing research for his doctorate, discovered that the hotel where he lived was run by the local mafia. When I asked if this had been a problem, he replied that, on the contrary, when people found out where he was living they didn't give him any trouble! In many areas organized crime had become the de facto government.  

Before Putin became president, Russia had been led by Boris Yeltsin, whose bravery at the end of the Soviet Union commanded wide admiration in Russia and the outside world. But Yeltsin was unable to get a handle on Russia's economic and political problems.

This was the genuine mess that Vladimir Putin inherited. One reason for his popularity is that during his leadership the Russian economy first stabilized and then has grown very considerably. Moscow TV, which I watch over the Internet, reports that the number of private cars in Moscow have risen from perhaps one million 12 years ago to more than four million, with all of the accidents, parking and traffic problems that congestion brings with it. The cramped, deteriorating 5-story apartments built during the Khrushchev era are being torn down and replaced with multistory buildings. How much Mr. Putin contributed directly to this domestic progress is uncertain, but his leadership clearly helped bring the governmental renewal and stability that allowed the progress to happen.

To put today's Russia in perspective, we need to remember that the Putin era has been the first time that Russians could lead normal lives since 1914, when Czarist Russia's disastrous involvement in World War I began an unending series of woes: the revolution, the Lenin-Stalin dictatorships, World War II, the repressive but gradually less outrageous regime after Stalin's death, and the chaotic decade after the Soviet Union fell apart.

It is no wonder that Putin is so popular in today's Russia that he might even be able to win a genuinely free election.

This article is the first in a two part series.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Vladimir Putin has had bad press lately. Aside from admiration expressed by Donald Trump, few Americans have had a kind word to say about him. And recently, even President Trump has backed off.
vladimir putin, russia, soviet union, boris yeltsin
Tuesday, 02 May 2017 11:45 AM
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