That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article)
Being anti-Western is “negative”, even for daring to oppose Western-backed Islamist crazies who will back-stab their handlers as soon as they’re able to.
But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts.
Note how “liberalizing” and “pro-Western” are conflated, because one can’t possibly liberalize without kowtowing to Western interests too. Furthermore, bear in mind the unspoken assumption that normal relations (“the reset”) are only to be rewarded for said kowtowing to the West. The concept of equality and reciprocity is alien to the minds of Western chauvinists.
As repeatedly noted by Mark Adomanis, the Russian liberals and the Western media have predicted about 10 of the last zero Russian revolutions. Likewise, the “Jasmine Revolution” in China that was the subject of so much talk about a year ago has fizzled out like a wet firework. Meanwhile, the Arab world remains in the midst of convulsions, and political instability is spreading into the West – most visibly in Greece and the Med, but also in the guise of Occupy Wall Street and associated movements in the US.
This is no doubt disturbing and aggravating to Western supremacists (it is telling that that the media organization providing the most detailed coverage of OWS, RT, is both non-Western and the object of venomous bile from the American exceptionalism culture warriors). Doesn’t the West (and the US in particular) have democracy, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, free media, economic opportunities, equality under the law, etc. – things that are all starkly and completely absent in countries of the Other, e.g. Russia and China? What the hell are the hippies and liberals protesting? Are they doped up unemployed losers, useful idiots of Leninist agents of influence, or both?
I think the answer is far simpler than it seems. In Russia, younger people tend to be both higher earning (their skills are better fitted to a capitalist economy) and more economically optimistic than their parents, not to mention their grandparents. They are also far more pro-capitalist, and substantially more supportive of Putin and Co. than the older generations (who have not done as well under capitalism, and who have fonder memories of communism). In fact, in the minds of Russian youth – and in stark contrast to the picture drawn by uninformed commentators – capitalism, prosperity, and the Putin era are closely linked. Hence, no real Russian equivalent of OWS (at least for now).
Now that my initial triumphalism over Putin’s return has faded a bit, it’s time for a more analytical look. One of the main reasons I thought Medvedev would be the more likely person to be United Russia’s Presidential candidate is that Putin was simply unwilling to return. As Daniel Treisman wrote in his book on post-Soviet Russia, “Once President, Putin very often looked like he would rather be somewhere else… I have never seen Putin look as happy as he did on election night 2008, when [he appeared] to congratulate Medvedev on his victory.” Not a description of someone who longs for power for its own sake, when considering that he was relinquishing the top position that he could have easily (and legally!) kept by simply amending the Constitution to allow more consecutive terms. Combined with Medvedev’s steadily high approval ratings, just a permanent whiff short of Putin’s according to the opinion polls, and the negative PR repercussions (at least abroad) of this move, I still don’t think that my original logic for arguing for Medvedev’s staying on was all that faulty.
But didn’t both Medvedev and Putin both refute that, saying everything had already been decided years in advance? Well, no. Contrary to the Western media coverage, that didn’t necessarily follow from their words. What Medvedev said was: “We really did discuss this variant of development back in that period, when we first formed our gentlemanly agreement” (мы действительно обсуждали этот вариант развития событий еще в тот период, когда сформировался наш товарищеский союз). What Putin said was: “I want to say it straight, that the agreement about what to do, what to work on in the future, we already made a long time ago, several years back” (хочу прямо сказать, что договоренность о том, что делать, чем заниматься в будущем, между нами давно достигнута, уже несколько лет назад).