(1) I was 75% wrong. (I gave Putin a 25% of returning to the PM; I thought the likeliest scenario would be for DAM to continue).
(2) That said, being an unrepentant Putinista, I’m very happy I was wrong – even if I lost $20 to a gambling site and a bottle of Georgian wine to a friend.
(3) In general terms, I hope this represents a left turn (VVP has come out in support of more progressive taxation), more social liberalism, and an end to DAM-style dithering and capitulation to Western interests and finance capital.
CONTINUATION. So here are my 2 cents. As you may recall, I thought Medvedev would continue in office. I gave it as a set of probabilities: DAM – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%). I’d have a lost at the casino, and in fact I did a bit, as well as a bottle of Georgian wine to a friend likewise interested in Russian politics (that said in terms of expectations I still think I made a good bet). So obviously this came as a surprise to me along with A Good Treaty, Mark Adomanis, Joera Mulders, etc. Of what I’d read on Putin, it sggested that he was becoming tired of Presidential trappings by the 2006-08 period, which I imagine implied he’d be happy in a more “hands on” job with fewer formalities than the Presidency, e.g. staying on as PM, or even (my whimsical scenario) becoming a Minister of Sports in charge of the Sochi Olympics and World Cup, or something. That said, as a Putin supporter who was wary and concerned about Medvedev’s neoliberal tendencies, his dithering and aimless style of rule, and his excessive capitulations to Western interests, unlike many of my Russia-watching acquaintances I welcome a second Putin Presidency.
There are many objections and criticisms of this decision, of course, and I’m going to reply to the biggest ones.
Foreign investors will flee, due to the bad PR. The bad PR will continue and even intensify, at least in the short-term, but let’s face, that will be happening as long as Russia refuses to submit to the whims of the “international community” (aka the West and international finance capital). In the end analysis, as long as investors feel they are going to make money, they will continue investing in Russia. That is all they’re interested in. If not, then no amount of good PR and pro-Western credentials are going to convince them (see the Baltics or Georgia).
Besides, there are a great many other flaws with this reasoning. First, the Russian President is beholden to the Russian electorate. Putin is the most popular and trusted Russian politician. So he is an eminently logical choice once the constitutional barrier to two consecutive terms has been sidestepped. This is the whole point of democracy according to our democratists anyway, right? As Mark Chapman colorfully put it, “Putin couldn’t make the west happy unless he accidentally hanged himself in his closet while dressed in his grandmother’s clothes and titillating himself with naked pictures of Khodorkovsky.” But the fact that many foreigners suffer from Putin Derangement Syndrome shouldn’t factor into the equation.
Second, haven’t the narrative-spinning pundits and “experts” been telling us that it was the lack of certitude in Russia’s political future that was keeping all the investors away anyway? This, at least, has been removed. On the same note, I don’t see how predicting a future lack of foreign investment just because to the return of Putin makes any sense. You can argue that they will be put off by the negative perceptions made by Putin’s return. But in that case how can you demonstrate that this will be more damaging than, say, DAM constantly lambasting his own country’s business climate and corruption, and openly dissing its economy at conferences of international investors. So despite the real anti-corruption efforts, if anything Russia’s reputational capital has actually declined under DAM. Take the Corruption Perceptions Index. We can argue, and have, about the extent to which it actually reflects corruption in Russia, but there’s no question that its a very good estimate of dominant corruption PERCEPTIONS in Russia – and under Medvedev the Glorious Reformer, it has actually slipped even deeper into the gutter from 2.3/10 to 2.1/10. I have written an entire post on the damaging effects DAM has inflicted on Russia with his condemnatory rhetoric. Good national leaders seek to present their nation in a positive light, and to acknowledge problems while toning down their significance while trying to solve them; I acknowledge that DAM has made not inconsiderable progress on the latter, but has no respect for the former whatsoever.
PS. If anything, he’s even harsher on Russia than many foreigners. He sweepingly calls Russia’s judicial landscape one of “legal nihilism”, and suggests amnesties for economic crimes. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights – not exactly known for their Russophilia – ruled that Khodorkovsky’s prosecution was not politically motivated, that it wasn’t “unfairly” singled out, and that YUKOS truly was involved in large-scale tax fraud and basically identified no problems apart from some procedural violations. Now that latter part isn’t great, but happens in all judicial systems. Case in point – the recent execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, USA, despite 7 of the original witnesses having recanted their testimonies and no direct evidence linking him to the crime ever having been found. Though I’m sure that in the warped logic of Russophic and pro-capitalist journalists procedural violations that lead a billionaire crook to jail are far worse than those that lead a possibly innocent black dude to the execution room.
It was to improve United Russia’s poll numbers. Again, have to agree with Mark Chapman: “Putin, who is supposedly falling in popularity himself, is selected for coronation in order to boost his party’s popularity? How does that work?” Besides, as I pointed out on several occasions, the demise of the so-called “party of crooks and thieves” are greatly exaggerated; according to polls, the percentage of Russians willing to vote for them was 54% in August 2011, just a shade down from 59% from August 2007. Hardly the sort of figure that would necessitate Batman Putin coming to Robin’s rescue. Chapman continues: “The fact is, some Russia watchers who were sure the candidate would be Medvedev are now trying to make it look like they were tricked by a storyline of surpassing cleverness. You can decide for yourself if you want to buy it.” I don’t. I’m okay with admitting I misread the tea leaves and fucked up a prediction.
“Putting executive power in the hands of one guy for long periods of power tends not to work out so well”, as mentioned by Doug. And Joera, who speaks of Putin risking losing his legacy. I actually agree with them the most. Shades of it were already seen during the 2007-2008 period – obviously, another six years of the Presidency, or even twelve, magnifies the danger. And if Putin decides to retreat into an increasingly authoritarian crust while the economy stagnates in relative terms, the ground may be paved for the sorts of protests that toppled De Gaulle in 1968. (Which would be very ironic, given the vast array of resemblances between the two statesmen).
That said, I do think that Putin has some interesting new ideas. First, there seems to be something of a left turn in his politics. He talks a lot about raising pensions, student subsidies, etc (and these are gradually coming about). Social spending has increased rapidly. The United People’s Front. During the United Russia conference where the announcement of his return was made, Putin promised to introduce more progressive taxation in order to make the wealthy pay more and ease the high levels of inequality. This is in considerable contrast to the motley of neoliberal ideologues like Yurgens and Co. that surround Medvedev, with their one-sided focus on privatization, austerity, etc. Second, it has never been absolutely clear that Medvedev is actually more “liberal” in social and even political terms than Putin. For instance, Medvedev recently labeled Marxism (and consequently teaching, discussing it, etc) as extremism, while Putin once served as President in a coalition that included the Communists. How liberal of him. When talking with defense industry leaders about contracts being delayed and rising in cost, Medvedev thuggishly noted that people were shot for that in Stalin’s days. How liberal of him. He supports a brutal US style war on drugs, which Putin opposes. How liberal of him. Medvedev thinks it is acceptable for the imperialists to drop bombs to sow the seeds of democracy. Putin thinks it’s ridiculous and calls a spade a spade, and Western interventions a resumption of the crusades. Overall, I think Putin may overall even be the more progressive of the tandem in terms of humanism and social liberalism.
As such, I can only applaud Putin’s imminent return. Слава Путину! Слава России!
EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.ru (Герой всегда возвращается).