President Putin and ‘sovereign democracy’ » Manila Bulletin News



Fidel V. Ramos

By Fidel V. Ramos

Former Philippine President

(Last of Two Parts)


On 13 September 2007, international news agencies headlined the breaking news that President Vladimir Putin had just dismissed Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and, as replacement, nominated Viktor Zubkov, a virtual unknown but loyal Putin follower who was in charge of the national agency fighting money laundering.

The surprising news came on the heels of Putin’s return from the APEC Summit in Sydney during which he signed a well-publicized nuclear cooperation pact with Australian PM John Howard. This happened on the eve of the Duma (Parliamentary) contest in December and presidential election in March, 2008, when Putin would have served the maximum of 8 years (2 successive terms) under the Russian Constitution.

The Financial Times (London, 14 September 2007) opined: “Should Zubkov now be seen as Putin’s heir? After all, Putin himself succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president via a brief prime ministership. But Putin has far greater political control than Yeltsin — and many more options. He has ruled out changing the Constitution and running for a third successive term. Zubkov, 66, a proven Putin ally, is now a temporary stand-in before a Putin return in 2012.”

President Putin subsequently announced he would consider becoming a future prime minister. Clearly, Putin was preparing a dominant role for his “United Russia” party so that its grip on political power would remain unbroken well beyond 2008, through a process that would appear constitutional and democratic to the Russian people and the international community.

Talk about how fortuitous was this writer’s being-on-the-spot — in Russia of all places, at a time when Vladimir Putin, its no-nonsense president, was making big news that caught everybody clueless.

High approval ratings

Thus, the Putin mystique continues to capture world attention. A joint poll by world public opinion in the US and Russia’s Levada center in July 2006 stated that Russians generally supported Putin’s concentration of political power.

Levada added: “Putin’s approval rating was 81% in June, 2007, the highest of any leader in the world at that time. His popularity rose from 31% in August, 1999, to 80% in November, 1999, and since then has never fallen below 65%. Arguably, the fact that his government controls some media outlets contributed to his high ratings; others see these as a consequence of higher living standards and Russia’s reassertion of itself on the world scene during Putin’s rule.”

His administration’s political philosophy is described as “Sovereign Democracy,” a label that has wide acceptance within Russia and unified its various political elites. According to his supporters, presidential policies must be supported by a popular majority within Russia – not generated from outside – such majority support being the founding principle of “sovereign democracy.” President Putin’s commitment to “democracy,” as understood in the west, however, had come under fire following his autocratic actions to insure his party’s overwhelming victory in the December 2007 polls and his projection to prime minister in March 2008.

The International Herald Tribune (15 October 2007) reported: “new election rules, combined with the Kremlin’s dominance over news media and government agencies, propelled his united Russia party to a majority even more overwhelming than its current one.”

Family and early career

Wikipedia furnishes details of Vladimir Putin’s family and early career. His mother, Maria Ivanovna Putina, was a factory worker and his father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, served in the submarine fleet in the 1930s. During WWII, his father joined the NKVD in a sabotage unit, and his paternal grandfather, Spiridon Putin, had been Lenin’s and Stalin’s personal cook.

Putin’s mother was a devoted Orthodox believer and attended church regularly (despite the government’s persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church). She ensured Putin (born in 1952 in Leningrad) was secretly christened in that religion, and regularly took him to church services. He speaks German fluently, and also English but uses interpreters during official events.

Putin graduated from the Law Department of the Leningrad State University in 1975, and thereafter was recruited into the KGB. At the University he became a member of the Soviet Communist Party and never formally resigned from it.

In July 1983, Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva, then a student of the Spanish branch of the Philology Department of the Leningrad State University, and a former airline stewardess, (born in Kaliningrad in January 1958). They have two daughters, Maria Putina (born 1985) and Yekaterina Putina (born 1986). Both attended the German School in Moscow.

As a KGB specialist in foreign intelligence, Putin served in the Leningrad region and in Dresden, East Germany. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1990, he was appointed head of External Relations of the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office.

He continued serving in various positions in the St. Petersburg arena until March 1997 when president Boris Yeltsin appointed him deputy chief of the presidential staff. In july 1998, he became the head of the “FSB,” one of the successor-agencies to the KGB.

Rapid rise to PM, then President

On 09 August 1999, Vladimir Putin was promoted as one of three first deputy prime ministers, but within a week, was elevated to prime minister with the approval of the Duma after the sacking of then PM Sergei Stepashin.

Putin’s tough law-and-order image and firm handling of the renewed Chechnya crisis in 1999 combined to raise his popularity, enabling him to overtake all rivals. When Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned (presumably for health reasons), Putin became acting president – in accordance with the Russian Constitution.

Presidential elections were held in March, 1999, and Putin handily won the presidency in the first round. His first term was characterized by a steady consolidation of power at the federation level. In March, 2004, Putin was reelected for a second term, gaining 71% of the vote, during which period he focused on domestic issues – notably on “the four national projects” of healthcare, education, housing, and agriculture. One of the most controversial aspects of his second term was the prosecution of Russia’s richest businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president of the Yukos Oil Company, for alleged fraud and tax evasion.

In international affairs, Putin has tried, with significant success, to reestablish the powerful and independent role once played by the USSR, while seeking stronger and more constructive ties with Europe, the US, and Asia, in particular China and India. Russia became a full-fledged member of the G-8 nations in 2005, and chaired the group in 2006.

Putin opposed Washington’s move to invade Iraq without a U.N. security council resolution explicitly authorizing the use of military force. Putin has also consistently countered a US missile defense system to be based in Europe, but favors sharing with the U.S. the soviet-era anti-missile network in Azerbaijan.

The Putin–Medvedev Leadership

Since 2005, RUSSIA has been a major global political, economic, energy, as well as nuclear power, while President Putin has proven to be an astute and respected leader, still ascendant at the relatively young age of 65 today.

There was no doubt, therefore, that Russia – under the rotating Putin–Medvedev leadership – would capably host the 2012 APEC Leaders’ summit in Vladivostok and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In the March, 2008, presidential election, Dmitry Medvedev, then prime minister, was given a significant boost by outgoing President Putin, and was elected by an overwhelming majority. He reverted back to prime minister when Putin won a 3rd Presidential mandate in 2012.

The honorary Philippine consul in Vladivostok, Yuri Kostyukov — an affable, sophisticated Russian engaged in the import-export business with Manila and Cebu — was FVR’s guide for two days last September 2007.

Up to now, his Philippine counterpart is honorary Russian Consul General Armi Garcia (wife of FVR’s former DOTC Secretary Jesus Garcia) based in Cebu. It was obvious to FVR that Vladivostok had already started sprucing its old charm and unique heritage as one of the early melting pots of citizens from around the world – to fulfill, in effect, Kruschchev’s dream for Vladivostok to become a “second San Francisco.” Many of its USSR-era military facilities have been converted into large-scale private business sector hubs, as the Philippines did with Clark and Subic earlier.

Sochi on the Black Sea underwent major face-lifting. The magnitude of Sochi’s transformation for the 2014 Winter Olympics was massive, with investments totaling some 3.5 billion USD. Sochi 2014 gave Russia the opportunity to extend its hand of friendship to the world after the American-led boycott (by 64 countries) of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics due to the Afghanistan invasion and, in retaliation, the Soviet-led boycott (by 14 countries) of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

The importance of all these developments in the far eastern reaches of the Russian federation augur well for peaceful, expanded economic relations with the Philippines – if aggressive superpower plays such as cyber-jacking are avoided, and complementarities in natural resources, human talents, and cultural values are respected by our two countries as founding members of the united nations.


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