Go West, Young Man

(Photo: AFP)

Vladimir Putin finished his second year as Russian president at the end of December, resisting the typical sophomore’s slump. An unknown when appointed by his ailing predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, Putin emerged in 2001 as a major world leader. Having won popular election to the presidency in March 2000, the former KGB officer continues to enjoy widespread domestic support—an opinion poll named him man of the year, and his approval rating hit 80 percent in November. “Cynical as it may sound, war has played a positive role in Vladimir Putin’s political career, for the second time,” wrote Yelena Tregubova in Kommersant Vlast (Dec. 25). “In 2000, the war in Chechnya basically made him president. And in 2001, Moscow supported the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, which has made Putin one of the top world leaders.”

In a forum with Obshchaya Gazeta’s Anatoli Kostyukov (Jan. 10), commentator Lilia Shevtsova observed that Putin em-barked on a series of economic and legal reforms and set about establishing new relations with the West. Yet these achievements, State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told Kostyukov, have come at the cost of reduced personal freedoms: “Most likely, [Putin] sincerely...believes that only the concentration of authority in one person’s hands can rescue Russia from crisis.”

Nevertheless, Putin won no accolades from traditional advocates of the firm grip—Russia’s communists. In Sovetskaya Rossiya (Dec. 31), T.G. Avaliani asked what the president had accomplished during his tenure and answered: “Nothing.” Russia’s post-Sept. 11 alliance with the United States, he wrote, will only call forth the enmity of the Islamic world and give America an outpost against China.