Vladimir Putin, 2nd President of Russia and current Prime Minister of Russia has drawn significant domestic and international criticism since his ascension to the Presidency of Russia in 1999.
Civil liberties and internal dissent
In 2006 and 2007 "Dissenters' Marches
" were organized by the opposition group Other Russia
, led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov
and national-Bolshevist leader Eduard Limonov
. Following prior warnings, demonstrations in several Russian cities were met by police action, which included interfering with the travel of the protesters and the arrests of as many as 150 people who attempted to break through police lines. The Dissenters' Marches have received little support among the Russian general public, according to popular polls. The Dissenters' March in Samara held in May 2007 during the Russia-EU summit attracted more journalists providing coverage of the event than actual participants. When asked in what way the Dissenters' Marches bother him, Putin answered that such marches "shall not prevent other citizens from living a normal life". During the Dissenters' March in Saint Petersburg on March 3
, the protesters blocked automobile traffic on Nevsky Prospect, the central street of the city, much to the disturbance of local drivers. The Governor of Saint Petersburg, Valentina Matvienko, commented on the event that "it is important to give everyone the opportunity to criticize the authorities, but this should be done in a civilized fashion". When asked about Kasparov's arrest, Putin replied that during his arrest Kasparov was speaking English rather than Russian, and suggested that he was targeting a Western audience rather than his own people. Putin has said that some domestic critics are being funded and supported by foreign enemies who would prefer to see a weak Russia. In his speech at the United Russia
meeting in Luzhniki
, he said: "Those who oppose us don't want us to realize our plan.... They need a weak, sick state! They need a disorganized and disoriented society, a divided society, so that they can do their deeds behind its back and eat cake on our tab..
Allegations of political assassinations and muzzling of reporters
Putin was widely criticized in the West and also by Russian liberals for what many observers considered a wide-scale crackdown on media freedoms
(See also Media freedom in Russia
). Since the early 1990s, a number of Russian reporters who have covered the situation in Chechnya
, contentious stories on organized crime, state and administrative officials, and large businesses have been killed. On October 7
, Anna Politkovskaya
, a journalist who ran a campaign exposing corruption in the Russian army
and its conduct in Chechnya
, was shot in the lobby of her apartment building. The death of this Russian journalist triggered an outcry of criticism of Russia in the Western media, with accusations that, at best, Putin has failed to protect the country's new independent media. When asked about Politkovskaya murder in his interview with the German TV channel ARD
, Putin said that her murder brings much more harm to the Russian authorities than her publications. In his interview with Izvestia
in April 2008, Dmitry Dovgiy from Russia's Prosecutor General's Office said he is convinced that Politkovskaya murder was masterminded by Boris Berezovsky
, citing the organizers' intent to "demonstrate that famous people can be murdered [in Russia] in the daylight" without being punished. In January 2008, Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, maintained that a system of "judicial terrorism" had started against journalists under Putin and that more than 300 criminal cases had been opened against them over the past six years.
At the same time, according to 2005 research by VCIOM, the share of Russians approving censorship on TV grew in a year from 63% to 82%; sociologists believed that Russians were not voting in favor of press freedom suppression, but rather for expulsion of ethically doubtful material (such as scenes of violence and sex).
Relations with "oligarchs"
One of the most controversial aspects of Putin's second term was the continuation of the criminal prosecution of Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, President of Yukos
oil company, for fraud and tax evasion. While much of the international press saw this as a reaction against Khodorkovsky's funding for political opponents of the Kremlin, both liberal and communist, the Russian government has argued that Khodorkovsky was engaged in corrupting a large segment of the Duma to prevent changes in the tax code aimed at taxing windfall profits and closing offshore tax evasion vehicles. Khodorkovsky's arrest was met positively by the Russian public, who see the oligarchs as thieves who were unjustly enriched and robbed the country of its natural wealth. Many of the initial privatizations, including that of Yukos, are widely believed to have been fraudulent (Yukos, valued at some $30bn in 2004, had been privatized for $110 million), and like other oligarchic groups, the Yukos-Menatep name has been frequently tarred with accusations of links to criminal organizations. Tim Osborne of GML (the majority owner of Yukos) said in February 2008: "Despite claims by President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin had no interest in bankrupting Yukos, the company's assets were auctioned at below-market value. In addition, new debts suddenly emerged out of nowhere, preventing the company from surviving. The main beneficiary of these tactics was Rosneft. It is clearer now than ever that the expropriation of Yukos was a ploy to put key elements of the energy sector in the hands of Putin's retinue. Moreover, the Yukos affair marked a turning point in Russia's commitment to domestic property rights and the rule of law. The fate of Yukos was seen by western media as a sign of a broader shift toward a system normally described as state capitalism
, where "the entirety of state-owned and controlled enterprises are run by and for the benefit of the cabal around Putin — a collection of former KGB colleagues, Saint Petersburg lawyers, and other political cronies." Against the backdrop of the Yukos saga, questions were raised about the actual destination of $13.1 billion remitted in October 2005 by the state-run Gazprom
as payment for 75,7% stake in Sibneft
accounts, after a series of generous dividend payouts and another $3 billion received from Yukos in a failed merger in 2003. In 1996 Roman Abramovich
and Boris Berezovsky
had acquired the controlling interest in Sibneft for $100 million within the controversial loans-for-shares program
. Some prominent Yeltsin-era billionaires, such as Sergey Pugachyov
, are reported to continue to enjoy close relationship with Putin's Kremlin.
In 2003 Mr. Putin switched the responsibilities for the State Committee for Environmental Protection to the Natural Resources Ministry. The organizations Greenpeace says that the Natural Resources Ministry, NRM, has a history of backing illegal and environmentally hazardous projects. "Russia is now absolutely defenseless against the armada of industrialists and businessmen who impudently rob the country of its natural resources" says the director of Greenpeace in Russia, Sergei Tsyplenkov. "The population of the country is deprived of its basic right, secured by the constitution, the right to a healthy environment." However, in 2004 President Putin signed the Kyoto Protocol treaty designed to reduce green house gasses.
In 2005, the non-oil GDP of Russia was smaller than the non-oil GDP of Turkey. Almost the entire economic expansion during 2000-5 was owed to the rise in indiscriminate mining and commodity speculation in international markets. As a result, brain drain continues in modern Russia while a disconnect has set between prosperity and scientific education.
Relations with former Soviet Republics
During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election
, Putin twice visited Ukraine before the election to show his support for Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych
, who was widely seen as a pro-Kremlin candidate, and he congratulated him on his anticipated victory before the official election returns had been in. Putin's personal support for Yanukovych was criticized as unwarranted interference in the affairs of a sovereign state (See also The Orange revolution
Crises have also developed in Russia's relations with Georgia and Moldova, both former Soviet republics accusing Moscow of supporting separatist entities in their territories. Moscow's policies under Putin towards these states is viewed by John McCain, an outspoken critic of Putin, as "efforts to bully democratic neighbors".
According to the official data submitted during the Russian legislative election, 2007 Putin's wealth is limited to approximately 3.7 million rubles (approximately $150,000) in bank accounts, a private 77.4 square meter apartment in Saint Petersburg, 260 shares of Bank Saint Petersburg (with a December 2007 market price $5.36 per share ) and two 1960s Volga M21 cars that he inherited from his father and does not register for on-road use. Putin's total 2006 income totaled to 2 million rubles (approximately $80,000). According to the official data Putin did not make into the top 100 most wealthy Duma candidates of his own United Russia party.
On the other hand, there have been some allegations that Putin secretly owns a large fortune.
According to former Chairman of the Russian State Duma Ivan Rybkin , and Russian political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky , Putin controls a 4.5% stake in Gazprom ($13 billion), 37% in Surgutneftegaz (approximately $20 billion) and 50% in the oil-trading company Gunvor run by a close friend of Putin — Gennady Timchenko (last year turnover of the company was $40 billion).. The aggregate estimated value of these holdings would easily make Putin Russia's richest person. In December 2007, Belkovsky elaborated on his claims: "Putin's name doesn't appear on any shareholders' register, of course. There is a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of offshore companies and funds. The final point is in Zug [in Switzerland] and Liechtenstein. Vladimir Putin should be the beneficiary owner. This claim however has never been supported with evidence.
Putin is not included in the world list of billionaires compiled by Forbes or the list of Russian billionaires compiled by the Finance magazine.
When asked at a press conference on February 14, 2008 that some papers wrote of him as the richest person in Europe, and if this is true, then what would be the sources of his wealth, Putin was quoted as saying the following in response: "This is true. I am the richest person not only in Europe, but also in the world. I collect emotions. And I am rich in that respect that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with leadership of such a great country as Russia. I consider this to be my biggest fortune. As for the rumors concerning my financial wealth, I have seen some pieces of paper regarding this. This is plain chatter, not worthy discussion, plain bosh. They have picked this in their noses and have smeared this across their pieces of paper. This is how I view this."
References and notes