A poll released yesterday shows that Putin is the sixth most respected man world wide. In regions outside the US and EU, he ranks second or third, right after the local heroes. More important to you, the defense department wants spend about a trillion of your hard earned dollars defending you from the evil mad dictator dwarf. I figure for that much money, you should at least know what you are being protected from.
IRRITATION ALERT: If you are an American, everything you know about Putin comes from what you have read in the American media, and the truth is going to make you very irritable. If we are going to talk about why Russians keep Putin in office, we have to say the nice things that the Russians think about him, and you won’t like that. You may not want to read this post.
Putin is neither devil nor angel, but he is nothing like what you have been led to believe.
Today we are going to talk about how he stays in Power. Tomorrow will be juicier when we talk about just how corrupt he is, and then we’ll try to explain to Americans just how much power he has and how the Russian government really works.
The first thing you need to know is that Putin is in no way a “dictator”. “Dictator” seems so be just a title that American media gives to everyone who doesn’t like us. He is the democratically elected leader of democratic (if heavily corrupt) country. He has to stand for election periodically and he is bound by constitutional term limits. The Russian constitution does not limit the total terms a man can be president but limits them to two consecutive terms at a time. He served two consecutive terms as president, stepped down for one term, and then ran again. Dictators don’t do that.
Also unlike a dictator, he does not make laws, and unlike Obama, he respects that limitation. As the popular leader of the largest political party, he has considerable influence over the Duma, but he can still only enforce laws they pass. This has hampered his fight against corruption and his drive to reform the justice system. The Duma, being filled with people even more corrupt than the US congress, just won’t pass any serious anti-corruption legislation, even for him. It would be too hard on their friends.
If you’re a right thinking American, you have to been saying “Wait a minute. If he isn’t a dictator, how come he’s been president forever?” After all, every western news outlet tells you that he is a horrible dictator who holds on to power by murdering his enemies and brain washing Russians by controlling every word they hear or see in the media.
The people who write that have been watching too many old black and white movies about the Soviet Union.
The reason he gets re-elected is because, from the Russian point of view, he is very good at his job. Just like Americans, Russians vote their pocket books. Living standards in Russia have doubled and redoubled since Putin came to office, and the average Russian now makes about six times as much as they made when Putin was elected. Ten times as many Russians have cars. Microwaves, flat screen televisions, washing machines, pet food, and dozens of other things that were scarce or unknown 20 years ago are common today. Compare that with the fact that you and I are making the same as or less than we made in 1990 and tens of thousands of Americans have been forced out of the workforce or into part time jobs – and you understand why the Russians love Putin. If Obama had done that instead of driving us into stagnation and poverty, we would wish he could run for a third term.
For those of you who believe that Putin controls every word of news the Russians hear and has them all brainwashed, I have one question: Where do you live, the 1930s? Do you think this is a world where border guards rip up smuggled newspapers and the KGB smashes unlicensed radios? Get serious.
If you don’t know anything else, you must have heard of that marvelous new invention called the internet. The internet in Russia is censored on only three topics, child exploitation, instructions on how to make explosives, and terrorist recruiting. Unlike China, the internet in Russia is an open highway to the rest of the world.
Russians can read anything on the internet, including BBC, CNN, Der Speigel and dozens of other western news sources that broadcast or publish in Russian. They read Yahoo News, occasionally watch Fox News for a laugh, and can even read this page on this blog. Many of them do.
The situation on the internal media is about the same as ours. In America people get 90% of their news from three networks, Fox News (mouthpiece of the Republican party), MSNBC (mouthpiece of the Democratic party and all liberal causes) and CNN (It used to be a news network but now runs hours of programming about eating food in foreign countries). No one has ever accused them of being impartial. Besides hating each other, they are Russo phobic and stick the American party line – unless they are jumping on Obama.
The situation in Russia is very similar. Most people get their news from the three main networks and those networks are owned by oligarchs who like Russia and most of them like Putin. On any night 90% of the international news is identical on CNN and Moscow Channel1, except that Moscow news will run a few stories, such as the story about rigged voting machines in Chicago and stories about the massive Nazi torchlight marches in Ukraine, which CNN will carefully protect you from. They can’t just make up things to print because there is that nasty internet that would expose them. They can, however, select stories and topics that reflect well on Russia and they do, just as the American media run stories that make us look good.
Internal news is about the same as in the US, a house fire is a house fire and a murder is a murder and inflation is news in both countries. Russia still has a lot of smaller papers that are very anti-Putin and still publish every day. One of the best that you can read is The Moscow Times (themoscowtimes.com). It gets funds from the Russian government, publishes in English every day in Moscow and would make Putin’s teeth chatter if he really cared what the news says about him.
The point is that Putin does not, and cannot, control every word Russians hear and does not stay in power by brainwashing the Russian people. In the modern world, it can’t be done.
The third leg of his popularity is one Americans can never seem to grasp. He is a MAN. Russians don’t have any use for what we call “presidential attitude”, which seems to mean “mealy mouthed, indecisive and determined to never, ever offend anyone”.
Putin’s reputation is that he is a workaholic, heavy into the martial arts, physically fit and absolutely loyal to his friends. In a country where most men are drunk part of most days, the fact that he is a teetotaler and has a reputation for always keeping his word, makes him very popular among the female electorate.
You are gonna be astounded at the next one. Russians know that Putin never lies to them. Of course that isn’t literally true, he is a politician, but he comes close. He would never pull a stunt like Obama does when he claims that unemployment is down and forgets to mention that it’s because the economy is so bad that people have given up looking for work. Obama has been claiming for a year that the unemployment rate is around 5% when 12% is closer to the truth. Putin wouldn’t do that. He tells it straight.
Here is a sampling of things Putin has told the Russian public in his annual call in show and in news briefings.
- We have a major problem with corruption and we are not making much progress in stopping it.
- Up to 20% of the federal budget is still being stolen or misdirected. Our efforts to clean up the situation have not been successful.
- Business in Russia will never improve unless we can establish a rule of law. Very few people will invest money in a country without a legal system that can be trusted to defend their property and personal rights, and we do not have that.
- We expect the economy to shrink in the next year and not improve until the year after that.
- No, it would be a nice idea to establish youth hostels around the country so college students could travel and learn about the country, but we can’t afford it, so it won’t happen.
Of course, he also passes on the good news, but he is a Man and men don’t avoid the truth. Try to imagine any American politician acting like that. Hard to picture, isn’t it?
So, he stays in power because he is good at his job and Russians like his personality. No brainwashing required.
Don’t worry if it sounds like we are whitewashing Putin. Tomorrow we talk about Putin and corruption. You’ll like that.