As expected, Vladimir Putin easily won Russia's presidential election on Sunday, securing a fresh six-year term to bolster his 12-year reign at the country's helm. (Putin first served as president from 2000 to 2008, before assuming the role of prime minister in 2008.) Putin's opponents accuse him of rigging Sunday's vote, and a newly emboldened pro-democracy movement will inevitably protest the Russian autocrat's election. Still, Putin continues to enjoy widespread support in Russia's provinces, where many credit him with pulling Russia out of the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even the pro-democracy movement is filled with middle-class urbanites who benefited materially from the economic boom times that Putin ushered in. Despite his faults, has Putin actually been a good leader for Russia?
Yes. Putin is a transcendent figure in Russian history: Putin is Russia's "greatest leader" since Peter the Great and Catherine the Great in the 17th century, says Lawrence Solomon at The Financial Post. The czars gave Russia only "serfdom and privation," and the communists ruined the country with "decades of central planning." Putin, on the other hand, "has delivered stability and prosperity" — per-capita GDP has climbed six-fold on his watch. Plus, he restored "Russian pride" after the debacle of the 1990s, when Russia was a "demoralized nation that the West could push around at will."
"Vladimir the Great"
No. Putin is as bad as his Soviet predecessors: In his naked appeals to Russian nationalism, says Michael Bohm of The Moscow Times, and in his constant allusions to sinister outside threats, Putin resembles Nikita Krushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and other Soviet strongmen. They, too, "believed that Western support of human rights" merely "amounted to 'interference in Russia's internal affairs.'" All viewed support of pro-democracy forces as "tantamount to betrayal." Putin is no hero. He's simply following in the Soviet Union's footsteps.
"Putin under siege"
Putin's legacy has yet to be written: Russia remains "autocratic" and "resistant to the spread of freedom," says Jackson Diehl at The Washington Post, even in the face of an increasingly "disgruntled public" that "won't tolerate exclusion from political decision making for another 10 years." The big question for Russia is whether the "inevitable change will come from inside or outside the current system." Will Putin be another Mikhail Gorbachev, and usher in a new era for Russia? Or will he be Hosni Mubarak, brought down by a popular revolt?
"The end of Putinism"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The U.S. is about to sell weapons to Vietnam. That's bad news for China.
- Why is the Pentagon stuffing caves in Norway full of tanks?
- What the Middle Ages can tell us about the GOP's big charity myth
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- An open letter to #brands about Gamergate
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- 10 soldiers welcomed home by very happy dogs
Subscribe to the Week