February 27, 2005


Suddenly, Critics Pile On Putin: Getting heat from President Bush is one thing, but the swipes from a former Prime Minister and others could be far more damaging (Jason Bush, 2/2505, Business Week)

As he went into Thursday's summit with U.S. President George Bush, Vladimir Putin was no doubt braced for criticism of his increasingly authoritarian ways. Yet the very same day that the Russian President was getting an earful from Bush in Slovakia, another senior politician -- former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov -- was digging the knife into his former boss at home, in what could be the start of powerful new political opposition.

Kasyanov, who headed the Russian government between 2000 and 2004, was sacked in March and replaced with Mikhail Fradkov, a little-known bureaucrat no doubt picked because of his complete subservience to Putin. Kasyanov's blistering attack on Putin's policies finally ended months of silence. At a specially convened press conference in Moscow, Kasyanov pulled no punches, slamming everything from Putin's abolition of regional elections to the persecution of the Yukos oil company, the mishandling of reforms, and Russia's social benefits system.

"EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE." Although Kasyanov refrained from blaming Putin personally, the message was crystal clear. "The general conclusion is that the country is going in the wrong direction. The vector has changed. This vector is wrong and negatively influences the social and economic development of the country," he said.

To resist these negative tendencies, Kasyanov added that democratic forces in Russia should unite in a single party. Perhaps Kasyanov himself was up for the job of leading them? He declined to give a definite answer. But the former Premier did hint at presidential ambitions. "Everything is possible," he said. "What's important is that whoever is President in 2008 will lead Russia in a democratic direction."

Strong words indeed from the man who was the head of the Russian government until just a few months ago. It's probably the most stinging public attack on Putin ever made by a former high-ranking official and yet more evidence that, as Putin's political mistakes add up, his critics are getting bolder.

Kasyanov's comments come just a few weeks after almost identical criticisms were voiced by Andrei Illarionov, presidential economic adviser and another political insider who was demoted after speaking out against Putin. "More and more people [in the Russian elite] are willing to criticize Putin both in public and in private. This is all happening very quickly," says Anders Aslund, director of the Russian & Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., who believes Putin's authority is crumbling fast.

Reform or get out of the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2005 3:15 PM

It's tough for an authoritarian to demand blind obeidience when he is on a losing streak. Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, Iraq. Once the sharks smell blood, the clock starts ticking.

Posted by: Bart at February 27, 2005 3:57 PM

putin is a manikin. he shows no ability whatso ever. he would make a great network anchorman. it looks like the russians are coming to the same conclusion. another one gwb will outlast. midget of the ages.

Posted by: cjm at February 27, 2005 7:14 PM

You gotta feel sorry for Peter Beinart. I was just today reading his latest TRB where he says Bush only talks the talk, and look how we've grown closer to authoritarian regimes in Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, and Russia, yadda, yadda, yadda.

No sooner does he say that than Bush speaks up against Mubarak and Putin, making Beinart's point completely laughable. I don't know about those other two countries, but if Bush's behavior is any indication we're already tightening the screws.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 27, 2005 8:33 PM

The western media has been after Putin ever since he went after Yukos and Khodorkovsky in 2002.

The fight was if the oligarchs would be able to buy the Duma (the Russian Mafia in exile had, with Khordorkovsky openly said they would spend $100 million to do it), movedbillions of dollars out of Russia (as they did when they laundered $9 Billion through the Bank of New York under the not so watchful eye of Rubin's #2 at Treasury: Stuart Eizenstat) and return to the status of puppet masters they enjoyed under Yeltsin.

The media had no problem with liberty in Russia when a dozen or so men owned the media and 75% of Russian industry.

Eizenstat has been all over TV this week trashing Putin. What no channel has mentioned is that in 2003 he registered as a foreign agent for Menatep--the bank Khodorkovsky and other oligarchs used to launder billions out of Russia.

Posted by: David at February 27, 2005 8:46 PM

Russia's leadership options are beween an autocrat or a kleptocrat. Salut vodka.

Posted by: Gideon at February 27, 2005 11:03 PM