Socialist Review 240, April 2000
Downloaded from the Socialist Review Archive
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.
A victory for Vladimir Putin in the Russian presidential elections seems certain: He commands 60 percent support in the polls and is widely seen as “the hard hand” who will impose “stability”. He claims to stand above the party political contest, harking back to the autocracy of the tsars.
Putin is not, as is often portrayed, a nondescript placeman. He spent 15 years as a career officer in the KGB. He was stationed in East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. He quickly drew the conclusion that the old Communist Party structures could not be sustained. He returned to St Petersburg to back Russia’s leading free market neo-liberals, who in turn sponsored his rise to head the KGB’s successor organisation, the FSB.
As the Yeltsin era drew to a close he was appointed prime minister, and then Yeltsin’s heir apparent. He secured the support of the repressive state apparatus, big business, key regional bosses and the military, expanding military production. For ordinary Russians it is the war in Chechnya that has projected Putin from obscurity to national prominence. He took direct authority over military operations and proudly identified himself with the brutality of his troops. There is growing evidence the FSB itself staged the bombings of working class apartment blocks used as a pretext for war. Other temporary factors have helped Putin sustain support. The rise in world oil prices has brought a significant rise in revenues into state coffers and, paradoxically, the 1998 collapse of the rouble. The soaring rise in the price of imports has also given some impetus to industrial production.
But Putin has also received support from another important quarter, the west. A stream of western dignitaries have paid homage to the new power in the Kremlin. Here is a leader who, they hope, will finally impose order and free market “discipline”. Robin Cook found the Russian warmonger’s style “refreshing and open”, and declared, “His priorities are ones that we share.” Tony Blair’s visit in March was the first by a western leader since Putin’s appointment as acting president, and was seen as an important mark of western support a fortnight before the elections. The US, Britain and the EU have all assured the Russians that the war in Chechnya will not interfere with business.
Yet, however strong a bet Putin may seem to his Russian and foreign backers, the tensions within his regime remain. Russian workers still face the consequences of continuing economic crisis and rising militarism. The “honeymoon” between Putin and Russian voters is unlikely to last.
Last updated on 22.12.2001