Friday, November 30, 2007

Bear baiting

Am I alone in finding Vladimir Putin a very scary man? I’ve been following his political reforms (increasingly centralised power) repeated ratcheting-up of military posturing and indeed threatening behaviour very much aimed at the “West”: huge financial investments, re-starting long-suspended surveillance flights, upping long-range missiles and so on. Now I read in today’s on-line Guardian (would someone please remind me how to put in links?) that the forthcoming elections are being rigged through massive intimidation and bribery of voters, in particular state employees, but also students and the general public. Ballot stuffing is predicted, international observers number a puny 400, the evening news is showing 16 minute slots of his party’s electoral rallies. I am not surprised by any of this, but I do find it worrying. Obviously it is naïve to believe that Russia can entirely break free of Soviet-style authoritarianism in a matter of a few years, but it looks very much to me like they are regressing, with Putin ever more powerful and untouchable.

It’s difficult to know what an appropriate response should be. Antagonising Putin risks all-out hostility and withdrawal of cooperation on many important issues, and there is of course the real politik considerations of having them on side in the war on terror. (I don’t want to get into that one here, suffice to say I am not sold on the war on terror.) On the other hand, it’s a huge and powerful country, massively armed and potentially dangerous. Shouldn’t there be some murmurings from the international community?



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