As much as we all enjoy those pictures of Vladimir Putin riding bears, we must consider the effects he’s had on Russia. Working with this man will be key whilst deliberating over Syria; as Assad’s strongest and only ally Putin wields immense power over the Assad regime. Without his support the West would be at liberty to launch military strikes against Syria, and it’s only Putin’s continuous speech making and veto-taking that stops them from doing this. Kind of.
He is seen by many as a merciless strong-man, who used authoritarian and morally questionable techniques to centralise the Russian state, and to cement his own grip over the country. He replaced many high ranking officials in the Kremlin with his own supporters, viewed by many as his puppets. He is an enemy of the oligarchs who rose to immense power and wealth following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the chaotic privatisations that followed. However, the thing that gets Russian liberals worried is his KGB background and dodgy human rights record.
The KGB served as the Soviet Union’s secret service, the Russian counterpart of MI6 or the CIA. During the Cold War it fought an espionage battle lasting half a century against Russia’s Western enemies, such as the USA or Great Britain. It was founded in 1954, and its name translates as ‘Committee for State Security’.
Putin was born in 1952 Leningrad, and studied law and economics before entering the ranks of the KGB. From there he worked his way up the lubricated pole of Russian bureaucracy until he replaced Boris Yeltsin as President in 2000. Since then he has dominated Russian politics, often exercising control through questionable means. When his ‘protege’ Dmitry Medvedev won a landslide election against him, he remained in the office of Prime Minister and never truly stepped out of power.
His office has seen a crackdown on tax evasion, a general dislike for free speech and blatantly cloutish behaviour towards Russia’s smaller neighbours, using energy price-hikes to punish them for leaning towards the West. Putin is viewed as a hard-line conservative, who has let corruption spread throughout Russia, and allowed human rights abuses by security services to become common practice.
One of the most die-hard of Putin’s critics is Mr Alexei Navalny, who uses blogging and social media to organise mass protests against Putin’s regime. When he started blogging about corruption in state-owned corporations in 2008 he used a very clever tactic: to become a minor shareholder, and delve into the dark information that this made him privy to. As it happens, this man is one of my minor heroes, and he is currently fighting a law suit against claims that he planned to steal 16 million roubles from a state-owned company. These claims are highly suspicious, I might add, but I’m in no position to spectate on that.
What we learn from this is that despite his spin-doctors’ desperate attempts to portray Vladimir Putin as a macho bear-rider, he really is all mushy inside, and just wants a cuddle.