Russia: The Popularity Contest


February 3, 2012:  A recent poll in Russia sought to determine which Russian leaders of the last century were most popular. Current president Dmitry Medvedev scored 54 percent. Medvedev is seen as competent but still subservient to his mentor Putin. Vladimir Putin scored 61 percent for his 2000-2008 rule as president. His predecessor Boris Yeltsin got 17 percent. The last head of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, got 14 percent. Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled through the 60s to the 1980s, the period of Soviet decline and massive increase in corruption, got 39 percent. For many older Russians the Brezhnev period was a time of relative affluence (after the privations of World War II) and peace. His predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, who sought to disarm and make peace with the West got 24 percent. Khrushchev was seen as submitting to the West. Josef Stalin, who killed more Russians than the Nazis, got 28 percent, as did the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin. Stalin got credit for the Russian victory in World War II which makes him a Russian national hero, bloody warts and all. The last czar, Nicholas II, got 31 percent. In retrospect, most Russians see the communist period as a mistake and realize that the czarist efforts to reform and democratize Russia was not such a bad idea after all. Make of all that what you will.

A Russian rock band, composed of former paratroopers, put a song calling Vladimir Putin a tyrant on the Internet where it was a hit. Many Russians still support Putin because he has reduced crime and corruption. There is still plenty of corruption around but a growing number of government employees are being prosecuted and jailed for it. There is less of it but corruption is still a way of life in many government bureaucracies. While Putin's reforms have played a large role in the growth of the economy, to the point where per-capital income is about twice what it was during the Soviet years, it has been done via restrictions on free-enterprise and property rights. This sort of thing makes Putin unpopular among the growing middle class.

Russia is becoming very unpopular in the Moslem, especially Arab, world because of continued Russian support for the unpopular Syrian dictatorship. Russia, using its Security Council veto, is preventing the UN from authorizing armed intervention on the side of the rebels. Russia let that happen in Libya and regretted it. Libya was a major arms customer and Syria is nearly as big. Russia needs those arms sales to keep its defense industries going. Moreover, by keeping the UN from helping to overthrow the Syrian dictator, Russia wins the thanks of Iran. Syria is the only Arab ally of Iran, and if the largely Sunni Arab rebels win in Syria it will be a big loss for Shia Iran (who props up the Shia Syrian dictatorship).  

February 2, 2012: For the second time in six months the launch of a Russian passenger vehicle, for the International Space Station, has been delayed. This time it was an error by Russian technicians that damaged the Soyuz vehicle. Such poor performance has been increasingly common in the Russian space program.

February 1, 2012: Vladimir Putin admitted that he would probably not win outright in the upcoming presidential elections. Putin seeks to be president for life by exploiting the constitutional prohibition against anyone serving more than two terms in a row. By installing a hand-picked successor as president, to serve one term so Putin could run again, has proved very unpopular. But Putin believes no strong candidate can oppose him. This is partly due to the fact that Putin has gotten laws passed to make it difficult for rival candidates to arise. Putin takes credit for finally clearing up much of the mess left by the failed Soviet system. Most Russians agree with this but oppose Putin's effort to build another one-party state.

January 31, 2012:  A Russian destroyer, accompanied by a seagoing tug and a tanker, visited the Philippines. This was the first time a Russian warship visited the Philippines in 96 years.

January 30, 2012: An anti-Putin demonstration was held on the 16 kilometers long ring road around Moscow. Demonstrators slowed down and snarled traffic. This kind of demonstration gets around government efforts to prevent anti-government events from taking place.

January 27, 2012: Two clashes in Dagestan left eight terrorists and four police dead. One of the dead was a local terrorist leader.

January 25, 2012:  Russia is sending another Spetsnaz brigade to the Caucasus. Russia currently has four Spetsnaz (commando) brigades (about 4,000 troops total) in the Caucasus and two air mobile brigades (5,000 troops). In addition there are over 50,000 Interior Ministry paramilitary troops plus police.

January 23, 2012: After yet another delay last March the new Akula II submarine that was supposed to be turned over to India (which is leasing it) three years ago was finally taken over by its Indian crew. Four years ago, during sea trials for this sub there was an equipment failure that killed 20 sailors and shipyard workers. This delayed sea trials for many months and the Russians found more items that needed attention. These additional inspections and repairs continued until quite recently. India is paying $90 million a year for ten years to lease the 8,100 ton Russian sub, which has been renamed INS Chakra.

A newspaper story revealed that Syria agreed to a $550 million deal to buy 36 Yak-130 jet trainers. The contract was quietly signed last December, but production will not begin until Syria makes the first payment, which it has not done and probably won't as long as the rebellion is active. This is the sort of payback Russia wants for its support.

January 19, 2012: Canada is accusing Russia of running an espionage operation in Canada. One Canadian naval officer has been arrested and several Russian diplomats have been expelled so far. Russia denies they are running any espionage operation in Canada. Most other Western nations would side with the Canadians, as the Russians have been increasing their spy activities enormously in the last decade.




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