Unlike Russia’s European neighbors, supporters of President Vladimir Putin hold a different view of him concerning his rule and power. They view him as a necessary fit and strong leader who suits to lead a country that was previously in chaos. When Vladimir took over power in the nineties, the former soviet countries were weak, disorganized and in chaos. Russia was ailing from a poor economy, high corruption and poor governance. The people then decided that Russia needed a strong autocratic leader who would concentrate his efforts on consolidating Russia, protecting, & expansion of its border and finally improving the economy.
Vladimir’s Succession of Boris Yeltsin
It is for this reason that the heavy-handed Vladimir, a former KGB agent, ascension to power did not come as a surprise. Vladimir Succeeded Boris with a comfortable majority win of votes over his immediate competitor. He inherited a failed regime from Boris and the people of Russia banked their hopes in him to improve their status quo economically both internally and internationally.
The Russian population would later view his election as the right choice since he succeeds in bringing order in Russia, improving its economy and uniting its countries. However, Vladimir’s actions in a bid to consolidate and maintain power over Russia in the successive decades have proved undemocratic and autocratic as far as its European neighbors are concerned.
They only confirm that President Vladimir is of the view that Russia can only succeed in overcoming its internal wrangles through an autocratic rule. It proves history right that democracy might not be a fit cut for Russia’s internal success even though it fronts democracy when dealing with its neighbors. The only other successful rule in its history was the tyrannical tsars. They maintained a strong grip on Russia through promoting a strong central rule and upholding an autocratic treatment on any divergent thoughts or actions. Throughout his rule, Vladimir has demonstrated this fact in many instances as will be discussed below.
Reorganization of Power
After seizing power, Vladimir’s main concern was to develop Russia economically, socially and politically to match the international standards of the most developed countries like Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, and the USA. In order to do so, he saw it as a matter of priority to restore Russia’s influence both internally and internationally. During Boris’ regime, the governance mismanaged Russia’s main economic and strategic resources. The country’s Central control mechanism (KGB) that kept it together and running had failed completely. This left the country’s political system in a great mess and confusion.
After ascension to power, Vladimir appealed to the west to help him in rebuilding the former soviet. This made the western countries believe that Russia had become a new democratic and a friendly country to the west. This was not the case since the former soviet had no other choice but to tow the line in order to protect its borders.
Meanwhile, Vladimir took advantage of the relationship that shifted the west’s focus out of Russia to rebuild the states control. He begun by strengthening the central Kremlin rule through restoring the KGB, currently referred to as the Federal Security Service or FSB to maintain a strong control over the state. Being a former KGB agent, Putin’s strengthening of KGB was necessary . The Militarization efforts aimed at asserting the soviets influence internally and internationally. Vladimir re-organized the power into a centralized Kremlin rule and dealt heavy-handedly with any opposition or critics.
The result of this power re-organization was a strong autocratic central government that is not easy-going on any form of opposition. Putin ended up centralizing power and concentrating it in the hand of a few individuals most of whom are his friends. He gave himself imperial power since as the president he held most of the power as provided for in Russia’s constitution. This concentration of power enabled him push through his political agenda and policies through intimidation and harassment. Even his former friends who backed him in his first bid to become the president but fell out with him during his reign have not had it kindly either.
An example is the mistreatment of the Federation Council deputy Lyudmila Narusova whose late husband was the main force behind Vladimir’s ascension to power in his first bid. Despite the help he received from her family, Vladimir’s government has constantly harassed her and her family since they decided to be vocal and critical of president Putin’s regime. Putin’s treatment of former allies now turned foes is evidence enough that he is a tyrant who does not take betrayal lightly.
Use of state Resources to Suppress Opposition
Unlike in the former Soviet Union regime, Russia has witnessed a tremendous economic growth during Vladimir’s reign. The country’s stock markets have an excellent rating while a majority of ownership is Russian citizens. Even though many of the low class citizens especially in the rural areas are unable to access the goods, a substantial percentage of the middle class and upper class citizens have a better access to the benefits of the improved economic growth. The economic improvement is what has kept Vladimir’s approval ratings above 70 percent.
One can largely attribute Russia’s economic success to high and favorable oil prices in the international market. The former Soviet boasts of being the second largest crude oil miners in the world. They come in second after Saudi Arabia in earning high revenues from crude oil exports. The revenue from the exports is the main reason behind the success of state funded projects and other economic projects by the government. Enough resources are available to start and finish the funding of many economic projects at a go.
On the other side, it is the fear of many that the oil is a source of money used by Vladimir to suppress opposition, silence critics and stalling any meaningful reforms in the politics, economic and investment. Just like many oil nations such as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, Russia has fallen into the trap of using oil revenues to weaken democracy in the country.
Such immense resources encourage corruption as a few individuals control the wealth by distributing it to those who are loyal to the faulty regime while using the same to castigate critics and those they perceive as betrayers. The administration pays off whistle blowers to keep quite or assassination contracts are taken out on them to silence them completely. The wealth puts extra coins in the government pocket to advance its divergent agenda.
As long as the oil wealth keeps flowing, no reforms take place. A testimony from Vladimir Ryzhkov, who is among the few liberal members of the legislators, proves the above fact right. He stated that as long as oil prices keep skyrocketing, so do the hopes of the Russian’s reform progress. He hopes for the day oil prices will come down since it is the only hope for any significant reforms in Russia.
An example of stalled investment reforms is the sentencing of a billionaire Russian businessperson Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a Siberian prison. Many believe that President Vladimir instigated fraudulent tax evasion charges against Mikhail that saw him handed nine years in prison for bogus claims. The move to imprison Mikhail discouraged many foreign investors and internal investors as well.
Another important fact is a string of death of a number of Russian government critics in Vladimir’s regime. The poisoning of Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko, a former KGB agent and a Vladimir government critic has had many confirm their suspicion of Putin’s involvement in the murder of his opponents. Letvinenko directly accused Putin and KGB for his radioactive poisoning. Other mysterious deaths of Putin’s critics include the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a critical journalist and the shooting of American phoebe magazine editor in 2004.
Another notable action that Putin undertook which confirms his autocratic rule is the signing of a legislative bill that clearly stated that any slander or libel against any administrative official shall be treated as “extremism”. It is of no doubt that, Putin aimed such legislative bills among others at instilling fear among journalists and other civil activist groups. The move has largely affected journalism in Russia for fear of imprisonment. The resulting effect is the curtailed freedom of speech in Russia, which is not a characteristic of any democratic ruler or state.
Another move that Putin undertook to silence the media is the crackdown on independent T.V stations that criticized Putin’s power. The aim of cracking down independent stations is to maintain a stiff control over the media and leave the stations that the government can easily control and verify what they report. The government constantly monitors media stations and puts a limit to the media content. If it considers the reports “extreme”, it goes ahead to shut down the stations. The media has to either tow the line or get out of the way. In this era of stifled freedom of expression, Putin is able to advance his autocratic rules and policies.
Since the acquisition of power, Putin has taken advantage of the imperial power vested in the presidency to introduce and ascent to bills into laws that advanced the agenda of autocracy in Russia at the expense of democracy. The legislation in place whose purported purpose is to fight child pornography and pedophilia through registration of websites is in use to fight government “extremism” which is synonymous with opposition in Putin’s government.
The Russian lawmakers proposed a bill, which demands that non-governmental organization receiving funds abroad to register as “foreign agents”. This limits the extent to which they can participate in economic building and influence in national welfare. The Putin government has put in place oppressive laws that impose exorbitant fines on individuals and groups that participate in demonstrations considered unlawful.
Putin’s stepping down from power in 2008 was a necessary break due to the provision of the constitution that forbids an individual from ruling more than two successive terms. His Step down from power appeared to many people as a temporary break due to the influence he had during President Dmitry Medvedev. Immediately after backing up Dmitry for power, he appointed Putin as the prime minister of Russia. Putin’s move was to keep himself at the limelight of political power over the six years Dmitry was in power.
He attained media attention through public appearances and involvement in national politics. Many citizens saw Putin as more influential than the president himself even though Dmitry denied the fact. His approval ratings increased during Dmitriy’s reign in power. Even though many saw him as an autocrat, Putin was popular among the Russian citizens. They saw him a strong leader whose leadership style would improve the economic performance of Russia. When it comes to matters of national security, Russians are willing to set aside their democratic rights and freedom of expression in the name of national interest. This is why he was reappointed for another six-year term in 2012 even though he had already ruled for two terms.
Dmitry’s Declaration that he was stepping aside in favor of Putin’s run for presidency in 2012 was not a surprise to many. Putin together with Dmitry made sure that they amended many legislative laws that prevented Putin from running for presidency again. It is for this reason that the world sees Putin’s ascension to power in 2012 as a continuation of his revolutionary and autocratic rule over Russia. In conclusion, many of these actions prove that Putin is actually an autocratic leader.
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