Putin's approval ratings hit all-time low comparable only to 2005
This week Russia's most popular newspaper Moskovsky Komsomoletz featured a front-page article titled "You Got Oil - Then You Got No Democracy. We're Heading Your Way!" Whether Putin did it intentionally or not, but by denouncing the coalition's efforts in Libya he gained the brownie points with the Russians. Not to be confused - the newspaper is very anti-Putin, but it sums up the Russian general public's feelings. According to the independent Levada Center, Putin's approval ratings are all-time lowest - 10% lower than the same time last year. Taking into account that the economy is doing much better than a year ago, such a dramatic drop in ratings is indeed something to worry about. Putin needs to appeal to the public, and now he does.
Russian media has mentioned multiple reasons for Medvedev's and Putin's disagreement on the issue: first and foremost - the lowering rankings. Also, official Russia does support the UN resolution (by abstaining for vetoing it); Medvedev, as Russia's president, brings to the table Russia's official position. Putin, on the other hand, is a prime-minister, and can say whatever he wants. Russia's mainstream media also believes that Vladimir really, sincerely disagrees with what's been done in Libya. Putin has been prominent in his opinion on respecting the affairs of any sovereign nation. However, in light of the presidential elections coming up in a year - the Medvedev-Putin public disagreement on Libya could be just a well-staged play to gain the voters' attention and to diffuse the public anger about Russian government allowing the UN Resolution 1973 to go forward.
Libyans explore the remains of an American fighter jet after it crashed near Benghazi due to mechanical issues
The UN resolution 1973 is purportedly imposed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, the killing of "thousands of civilians" - as claimed by the insurgent side. Is there any independent confirmation of such a humanitarian catastrophe, of the death of masses of innocent civilians? Or do those casualties occur in the course of armed struggle between government forces and insurgents? No one can say for sure, because the evidence, what there is of it, comes from the warring sides and should by rights be dismissed as acts of information warfare.
As far as this anti-government side is concerned, a lack of any reliable information about it is particularly conspicuous. Just who are these people? Who are their leaders? Western media now calls them "freedom fighters" but are they? What are their plans - apart from getting rid of Qaddafi? If they want "freedom and democracy" - what are their democratic credentials, excepting verbiage? Freedom for what, Sharia Law? Col. Qaddafi, for one, calls them al-Qaeda stooges. He may be saying this just to scare his Western opponents - but supposing there is a grain of truth in this?
We just do not know, and that's a fact.
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During his visit to Russia, Chief of Pentagon Robert Gates fired the noon cannon at the Peter and Paul Fortress over St. Petersburg, a custom started by Peter the Great. CNN reports: "With the city laid out in front of him and the ice-covered river below, Gates practiced a couple of times and then counted down the final five seconds to the traditional midday firing. He was presented with the shell casing as a memento of the day."
While in Russia, Gates did not talk about Libya at all. In fact, he almost silently agreed with Putin's remarks against the coalition's military actions in the Middle East. However, he talked a lot about his past in the CIA, and lamented the Cold War. "In the days of the Cold War, it seemed the world was a lot simpler," Gates told Russian Navy officers. "There was the Soviet Union. There was us. Almost every problem of the world was defined by that relationship. Once the Cold War got over, the world got a lot more complicated."
Coincidentally, just a couple weeks ago I was hosted at a private movie party devoted to the Cold War. The party, which took place in a Nashville's finer neighborhood movie theater, featured liters of Jack Daniels, vodka, and the great old movie with Kirk Douglas "Seven Days in May" (1964). The American guests at the party mirrored Gates' recollections of the past: during the Cold Way the world was safer, the enemies were civilized and predictable, and--in fact--similar to each other (political agendas aside). Today, both Russia and the U.S. are facing the common enemy, the one who has no home, morals, or honor.
A janitor cleaning the street next to an exotic race car in Moscow, Russia
With average salaries of the working class virtually unchanged over the past year, and still no paved road between the west side and the east coast of the country, Russian citizens are not sure if they should be proud by the fact that their nation's capital is home to 79 billionaires, most in the world. On the other hand, Russia's vast spaces and extreme temperatures would make the maintenance of a continental highway nearly impossible, and an average Russian has seen his income surge over the past decade. So, after all, countless Bentleys, Mercedes's, and Rolls Royce's in the streets of Moscow are nowhere near to cause a Soviet-October-style or Egypt-type revolution. People, on average, are happy.
With unrest in Africa and the Middle East, The New York Times (usually unfriendly to Moscow) calls Russia "the most stable energy exporter in the world." European and American investors lined up to strengthen Russia's financial well-being and billionaires' pockets: "BP cited Russia's relative stability compared with OPEC regions, when announced in January a $7.8 billion deal to invest in the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft and jointly search for oil in the Arctic. Later that month, Exxon Mobil, the biggest American oil company, signed a deal with Rosneft to explore offshore in the Black Sea," reported the NYT. French energy giant Total cited Russia's stability two weeks ago when agreeing to buy $4 billion worth (about 12 percent) of a Russian independent natural gas producer Novatek, and join a liquefied natural gas project in the Russian Arctic.
Combined with Russia's status as a number-one world's energy exporter, facts are facts: Russia is home to a stable economy, balanced budget, satisfied population, fastest strengthening currency, and 101 billionaires. After all, Russia's snow and ice are friendlier than Arab sand and sunshine (and safer than the Wall Street's gambling).