December 20, 2003


The Case for Putin: Don't write off Russia's president. (Lewis E. Lehrman, 12/22/2003, Weekly Standard)

[T]here is another possible interpretation of the controversial arrest: that Putin acted not against democracy but against corruption; that he played the part of a prudent constitutional chief executive in enforcing the laws of the Russian Federation; and that the Russian people sense this, which is one reason they gave Putin's party and its allied parties a landslide victory in the Duma elections held on December 7. [...]

[C]onsider only a few of Putin's achievements since the total collapse of Russia's economy in 1998 and 1999. Today, Russia is in the early stages of building a civil society after 1,000 years of tyranny at the hands of Mongols, czars, boyars, and Communists. Perestroika, then Boris Yeltsin, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, opened the way for a decade of colossal corruption characterized by incompetence and official self-dealing. Putin has led a vital, four-year drive, first as prime minister, then as president, to contain these corrosive forces. As he said in September, "If by democracy one means the dissolution of the state, then we do not need such democracy."

A reading of Russia's financial performance will show that central bank reserves are over $70 billion, up from national bankruptcy in 1998--with an extraordinary rise in reserves of over 25 percent since January 2003. The flight of capital predicted at the time of Khodorkovsky's arrest has not materialized. The fiscal budget is in surplus. The current account surplus continues to add to these resources; some government debt has been repaid, some refunded. Russia's credit rating has risen from bankruptcy to Moody's investment grade. Reports on manufacturing growth are exceptional. President Putin's first term has been, in a word, a financial triumph.

The Yeltsin model of selling out the Russian people's assets, for almost nothing, to the "family" and the oligarchs will forever be deeply regretted in Russia. But privatization will persist, despite warnings to the contrary from Khodorkovsky's apologists. True, some Yukos shares will remain frozen until the criminal trial is over (a not uncommon practice under both U.S. and Russian law), but this period will be associated with continued growth and stability in the Russian economy, to the increasing benefit of middle-income and working people. Over the next five years, the European Union, China, and other countries will vigorously compete to invest in Russia.

The fact is, the positive economic trends set in motion during the presidency of Vladimir Putin are every bit as significant as those in China, India, and Brazil. [...]

Above all, future historians will appraise the immediate past and the developments of the next five years in light of the disorder of the decade 1989-99. An overwrought media, curiously infatuated with Khodorkovsky--and before him, with the oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky--will gradually come round to acknowledging Putin's achievements.

Don't bet on it. If there's one consistent global media bias, it is that no regime of the Left ever had bad motives for the damage it caused and no regime of the Right had good motives when it saved a nation.

The Khodorkovsky Affair (John C.K. Daly, Dec. 16, 2003 , Insight)

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2003 4:26 PM

Just a few more years of dictatorship. Then, the Soviet Union, or Russia, or whatever it is calling itself these days, will be a worker's paradise, or a liberal democracy, or whatever it is that is in vogue right now.

Posted by: EO at December 20, 2003 5:19 PM


It was nearly there under the Tsar--a net exporter of food and steel and the like.

Posted by: oj at December 20, 2003 5:32 PM

Putin on the right?I must have missed something.

Posted by: M. at December 20, 2003 5:41 PM

I'm sure that Putin is simply the cat's meeow.

(But I shor wish he'd stop helping Iran develop nuclear weapons, and that he'd stop supplying them with Russia's latest SAMs to protect the development sites.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 20, 2003 5:48 PM

A net exporter of food and steel because it didn't feed or supply tools to its own people.

Ireland was a net exporter of food during the Famine, but that's not usually counted a success.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 21, 2003 6:36 PM

Ireland was a colony--Russia fed its people and exported, Something it failed to do once your boys took over..

Posted by: oj at December 21, 2003 6:44 PM

Not in the cities, it didn't.

A colleague of mine has a column today ( about Russian Christmas. He says the whole economy shuts down for 3 weeks to celebrate Orthodox New Year, Christmas and Heterodox New Year. Even newspapers quit publishing.

The ability of a society like that to compete with, say, us is going to be pretty limited.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 23, 2003 5:07 PM