A global atmosphere where democracy is spreading and authoritarian regimes are imploding is not a world that anyone would want to be on the wrong side of. Democratic leaders and hoards of activists are changing the world we live in at a faster pace than ever before, and it must be acknowledged that the times of oppressive and restrictive regimes and leaders are a thing of the past.
One precarious case of political leadership in the 21st century is that of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. Now, Mr. Putin’s history is well documented but to provide an overview, he worked as a KGB intelligence agent in East Germany from 1975 to 1991, during the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, after which he went on to work first in municipal and then national politics. Since 1999, Putin has been either the President or Prime Minister of the Russian Federation – which has stood as a topic of heavy domestic and international criticism.
Because of so much historical precedence and restricted media in modern Russia, the Putin regime is so often misunderstood for being one of communist revisionism or for for being an absolute dictatorship. Russia has a political system which has been dubbed a “managed democracy”, with which the technical aspects of law and freedom are generally adhered to, but those very laws and freedoms are manipulated by the people, or rather person, in power.
Vladimir Putin’s reign over the Russian Federation has been centered around his party’s platform of Russian conservatism, nationalism, and statism. He has been very politically manipulative in the forms of restricting countless media outlets from reporting on television or in print, and suppressing the journalism sector at large. Putin has had an iron fist on the entirety of Russian society including the political, economic, and social spheres. The reality is though, that because of the sheer degree of power he has, he is able to manipulate and maneuver laws and regulations to suit his intentions in a completely legal manner.
Russia’s 2011 legislative elections were one case where Putin entirely rigged and tampered with official election procedures, and this was the verdict reached in the European Court of Human Rights. Because of the backlash he and his party faced by way of international criticism as well as domestic protests, the Russian leader had to explore alternate paths through which he could still hold on to power, but in a more democratic sense. He did this through establishing ties to opposition parties so long as they remain loyal to him and his government. In this manner, Putin’s party as well as the main opposition parties all supported his leadership and regardless of turnout or election results, he would come out as the winner. In any case, the Russian people could easily see through this political façade and would either abstain from voting if they truly oppose the government, or they would just vote for Putin’s United Russia party anyways.
Because Vladimir Putin represents a transition from the old guard to the modern Russian leadership, expectations cannot be held as highly as they would be for the leader of an established and stable democracy like that of the United States or Canada. Nonetheless, consistent reforms toward democracy should be put in place over the years, but as seen throughout history, the transition is not this simple.
Generations after a society collapses, corruption and back-door dealings are still often the main infrastructure of the new regime. If we look at the ex-Yugoslavian countries as well as Venezuela and Cuba, the same governing still stands in the aftermath of collapse and it takes several generations to wipe out the old establishment – and that’s just the way it’s been in the past and presumably the way it will continue to be in the future.
Further, the financial redistribution of state assets in the fallout of the Soviet Union has allowed Putin to keep a close connection to Russia’s powerful oligarchical order. For his first three years working in national politics in Moscow from 1996-1999, Putin was responsible for foreign asset management of the former Soviet Union and transferring them to the Russian Federation. In essence, he has well established ties to both the old and new guard of Russian political kingpins as well as to key financial players in a diverse range of industries, securing him more than enough influence to pave consistent support in a relatively democratic manner.
The oligarchical system is the main distinction between Russia and any western capitalist nation like the United States. In the US, candidates win elections in large part based on heavy backing from industrial influencers – often some of the largest corporations in the country who also tend to be some of the most influential employers in the country. This is no different in Russia, except there is a far smaller pool of large corporate influencers to garner support from, and considering Putin helped many of them reach their current status, it is unlikely that he would lose their support, and in turn that of their abundant employees from all over the country.
Generally, when a corporation supports a certain political candidate or direction, it’s not without reason; often this relationship is one of mutual benefit. So, by supporting Putin as president, Russian corporations ensure that their operations will be supported by the government, ultimately landing them more and more success. This also means that with this corporate success, employees of these businesses will also experience a steady progression in economic status. Thus, Vladimir Putin’s careful management of economic and political influence allows him to remain in democratic power and also allows him to work directly with the nation’s largest and most influential corporations to further their interests and to elevate the financial situations of many Russian workers.
Despite his unfair and oppressive tactics of suppressing journalism and controlling media narratives as well as political balance, Vladimir Putin continues to find ways to manipulate the Russian governing order in such a way that still progresses their economic feasibility.