Beyond the Magazine Covers, Putin’s Power Is Slipping

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Staff Editor


Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru
Forbes
magazine this week ranked Vladimir Putin number one on its list of the world’s most powerful people.

Here are a few of the many reasons why this designation is misplaced:


After years of misrule, his country is falling to pieces.


Photo Credit: Stefan Krasowski

Most Russia watchers are familiar with the grinding southern insurgencies, projections of population decline, low life expectancies, and deadly accidents linked to infrastructural decay and corruption. But a recent New York Times feature painted a vivid and alarming picture of Russia’s hinterlands, some of which seem to have fallen into a postapocalyptic state of disrepair and isolation. As wealth flows to the capital and out of the country to hidden bank accounts, it is leaving behind vast deserts of poverty and neglect.

His fear of new political opponents is evident.

Photo Credit: Evgeny Feldman / Novaya Gazeta

Putin managed to weather the large protests against his rigged reelection in late 2011 and 2012, deploying riot police and issuing a raft of new laws designed to intimidate his opponents in civil society. This does not mean his rule is secure, however. He continues to face a strong challenge from popular figures like Aleksey Navalny, whom the authorities have threatened with prison sentences but shrink from actually incarcerating.

Beijing is nudging him out of Central Asia.

Photo Credit: chensiyuan

China’s government has made major inroads in this former Soviet space, rapidly extending its trade and pipeline networks and giving local autocrats an alternative source of patronage and protection. The trend means more than just a loss of pride for Russia. Its longtime role as the middleman for Central Asian oil and gas headed to European markets has been a crucial source of revenue and geopolitical influence, particularly as production from its own aging fields dwindles. Russia’s untapped reserves are immense, but with international companies wary of the country’s pliant courts and grasping officials, the funds to develop new fields may have to come from China.

Brussels is nudging him out of Eastern Europe.
Putin’s regime has pulled out all the stops to dissuade former Soviet states like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia from forging closer relationships with the European Union at a crucial summit set for late November. Moscow has all but demanded that these countries join a Russian-led Customs Union instead, using energy supplies, old territorial conflicts, restive ethnic minorities, and various trade bans to bludgeon them into submission. While Armenia has apparently succumbed to the pressure, it seems to have backfired in the other countries, leaving Russia looking increasingly powerless to stop the EU’s eastward march—though flawed leaders like Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych could still botch their own countries’ integration.

His rescue of Assad is no real victory.

The Forbes list makes special mention of Putin’s success in staving off U.S.-led military strikes on his Syrian ally, Bashar al-Assad. Some would argue that he simply gave the White House a handy excuse to avoid an action the U.S. president never wanted to take. In any case, it is unclear how aiding and abetting Assad adds to Putin’s power or prestige. The Syrian dictator presides tenuously over sections of a demolished nation and depends on an economically crippled Iran for his survival. He is an international pariah, busily slaughtering and scattering his own people. And the droves of Islamist militants attracted by his needless war are a threat to all states, Russia included. If Putin won a diplomatic victory, the fruits are quite rotten.

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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