Russian presidents

RUSSIANS approach today’s landmark presidential elections with mixed feelings, regardless of whether they exercise their right to vote or not. Mixed because this is the first time since the end of the iron curtain days that they approach a change at the helm with a measure of pride in the nation’s outlook, and few can discredit the force behind outgoing President Vladimir Putin’s record high acceptance ratings.

Yet there is a strong downside since the paranoia that surrounded the top level in the old communism days, too, was made to make a strong comeback when Putin had the means and the opportunity to rubbish it to the dustbin of history forever.

Interestingly, most Russians find themselves at too critical a point on their comeback climb to let democratic nuances take precedence over more mundane issues, with good reason. They still carry the bitter after taste that came with embracing the free market economy, which did not leave them as pleased as pundits of the laissez-faire system elsewhere. The madness of hyper inflation and ruble capitulation debacles pushed them into a long struggle for survival while the West celebrated the end of communism, victory for capitalism, triumph of freedom over dictation, etc, adding to the frustration that festered in Russia.

Few expected Putin to transform the Russia he inherited from Boris Yeltsin. But they went along with his notion of ‘sovereign democracy’ that once again concentrated power in the Kremlin, punished billionaire oligarchs whom Yeltsin licensed to exploit Russia’s vast mineral resources, and leveraged the oil and gas muscle to reassert Russia’s international standing of old because they found a pronounced improvement in their standard of living and rediscovered their long lost glory. It is little surprise, therefore, that the majority choose to overlook Putin’s dictatorial self-perpetuation in the final analysis, mainly because more of him would mean more of the same for them, which is a better Russia than at anytime after the fall of the red wall.

Of course, that does not absolve Putin of disallowing what could have been a much cleaner democracy. For now, however, it seems there is little change in the mindset that has epitomised Russia’s top man. However good or bad for the people, his survival instincts perhaps gain the most from his presidency. Ironically, the same could see Putin slowly sidelined as Dimitry Medvedev discovers the unending lure of the presidency.

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