Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) trying on a Super Bowl championship ring flanked by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (left) and international media mogul Rupert Murdoch (center) in 2005.
In case you missed it, the May-June 2007 issue of Harvard Magazine featured an article titled ("The Enigmatic Mr. Putin") by Russian studies professor Timothy J. Colton. Prof. Colton is the director of Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the author of the forthcoming book Yeltsin: A Political Life.Here are some excerpts:
"High oil and gas prices, combined with the long-term benefits of the Yeltsin economic reforms and with investment-friendly decisions since 2000, have brought Russia a sustained boom; this comes as an immense relief after the decade of contraction and hardship under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, during which the economy shrank by more than 50 percent--worse than the Great Depression in the United States. The World Bank reckons that gross domestic product (GDP) increased by an average of 6.2 percent annually in 2001 through 2006; the real [inflation adjusted] disposable income of the population surged by 11.2 percent per year from 2002 to 2006..."
Click on the extended post to read more excerpts from this article.
Putin speaking at a press conference in Russia's Karelia region in 2000
"Cellphone penetration has surged to 60 percent countrywide and to 80 or 90 percent in the big cities, and 25 million Russians are estimated to have surfed the Internet unimpeded in 2006, in contrast to China, where the government screens websites. Nor has there been serious infringement on intellectual and cultural life, which by all indicators has been rebounding from a low point during the economic hard times after 1991. In the vast majority of court cases that are nonpolitical, the judiciary functions better than in the 1990s, and jury trials have been made compulsory for the most severe crimes. Economically, private capital still predominates, despite state inroads in the energy field. As for the business class, it has made far more money during Putin's reign than it did during Yeltsin's. Forbes magazine registered not a single Russian billionaire in 1999 or 2000, in the aftermath of the 1998 crash. In 2006 it listed 33, the third highest total in the world (behind the United States and Germany), and their net worth had soared from $91 billion to $172 billion during the preceding year..."
"Economic strength has fed political strength. Putin's aura, however, goes beyond GDP and family incomes. His approval ratings have been flat at the 70 to 80 percent level since his inauguration, remarkably impervious to failures and embarrassments. He won reelection with 71 percent of the vote in March 2004, or 18 percentage points more than he polled four years before. Electoral fraud accounts at best for a tiny fraction of this showing. Rightly or wrongly, the average citizen lauds Putin for his businesslike style and for bringing the country order and self-respect. His reputation sails miles above that of his policies: polls consistently show large minorities or pluralities doubting specific decisions on, say, inflation or corruption while keeping the faith in the architect of those policies."
Harvard Magazine printed one letter in response to this piece:
Professor Timothy Colton ("The Enigmatic Mr. Putin," May-June, page 40) provides a very perceptive and excellent review of Russia and Putin. The significant final sentence is: "We will have a modest chance to influence Russia's developmental choices, if this time around we can imagine a place for it in the global community in which its worst instincts are restrained and its best instincts are encouraged." To this I would like to add three words: "and our own."
J. Richard Warbasse, M.D. '54
You can download a PDF version Prof. Colton's article here.