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BBC Monitoring
Russian president lacks strategic vision - analyst
Source: Gazeta.ru web site, Moscow, in Russian 7 May 03

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given priority to tactics in preference to strategy and lacks strategic vision, according to Nikolay Petrov, head of Politico-Geographic Research Centre. Petrov writes in a newspaper article that Putin's main achievement of the three years in office has been to take control of power at the centre and in the regions. He notes the absence of civil society and the loss of press freedom. The following is the text of report by Russian Gazeta.ru web site on 7 May. Subheadings have been inserted editorially:

Putin's main achievement: taking control of power

Correspondent: What can be described as Vladimir Putin's main achievement in his three years in office?

Petrov: Speaking of Putin himself, not of the country under his leadership, his main achievement has been to take control of power at the centre and in the regions. In other words, to use so-called years of plenty - a relatively prosperous time - in order to fully take over power. The president did not have this three years ago. Either in Moscow or at local level.

Main problem: absence of strategic vision

Correspondent: And what are the mistakes?

Petrov: You might call it a mistake, but it's probably a birth trauma - the priority of tactics over strategy. From the tactical viewpoint everything has been done correctly and in a whole series of cases rather effectively. The idea that we need only impose order, and then everything will become clear and proceed automatically is a fallacy. I think that the main thing that the authorities are running up against now is the absence of a strategic vision, the absence of an understanding of what to do next.

Before elections, reforms could be replaced by ritual sacrifice

Correspondent: What will Putin have time to do before the presidential elections?

Petrov: It is difficult to speak of all the reforms. For instance, the federal reform, the first reform and the main one with which Putin began - this reform is almost the only one that is currently developing. All the rest are more either generalities or a big gesture that has not yet produced results. And nobody knows whether it will produce them at all.

As for Dmitriy Kozak's municipal reform, obviously, it will be decided to delay it. Therefore the only thing that can be expected before the elections is some kind of ritual sacrifice - in order to demonstrate zeal in the sphere of administrative reform, the fight against corruption, and so forth. In order to find culprits and make a show of punishing them.

All the president's actions are already determined by considerations connected with the elections. So we should not now expect any strategic actions, in other words, actions that are not aimed at victory in the elections.

Correspondent: What might these sacrifices by Putin look like?

Petrov: They will be high-profile dismissals of unpopular figures on whom pithy criticism can be focused with respect to the government's failings during the first presidential term. It could be the whole government, including the premier. It could be head of the presidential administration Aleksandr Voloshin or someone else. At the moment there is a very convenient situation for Putin in which all positive elements are associated with him. The gap between Putin's personal popularity and the cost of the reforms or visible real achievements in the economic sphere is very great, which makes it possible to have scapegoats at all sorts of levels, beginning with the premier.

Contrast with Yeltsin old hat

Correspondent: Previously Putin could still play on the contrast with Yeltsin, but what about now?

Petrov: This is the new element of the upcoming campaign. Putin can no longer operate on criticism to the same extent - he has to answer for what has happened or failed to happen. This is a very serious problem that has not yet been reflected in a decline in his poll numbers and is prompting his campaign managers to devise new steps aimed at preserving his poll numbers. The more time that passes, the less he can exploit the advantageous contrast with Yeltsin and the more he bears responsibility for the situation in the country.

Emphasis on discipline and subordination

Correspondent: So what are the virtues that Putin is loved for?

Petrov: His own baggage. This semi-military system, with a very direct and less than modern - from the viewpoint of the development of democracy - vision of the situation and of the ways of solving problems. Therefore emphasis is placed on discipline and subordination, and elements of federalism are effectively disappearing. So far as he is concerned this is a totally normal logic within which he was moulded as a politician. It is a rigid system with a degree of joint subordination, with clearly defined bounds of responsibility, and tight control exercised by the superior level over the inferior level. This logic is fine in the special services and the military sphere, but it is not applicable to the life of society as a whole.

Absence of civil society, loss of press freedom

On the one hand, there is Putin, as a product of certain structures, acting within the framework of this logic from the best of motives. On the other hand, there is the almost total absence of a civil society to share responsibility with the president for all the failings. It would not be so bad if, alongside the president and his logic, there were a strong civil society to spur him on and to complement and compensate for his lack of understanding of how one should work within society.

But what we now have is substantially better than what could have been expected when Putin came to power. The relatively good situation today is not down to the government or to Putin. It is the result of economic conditions. And society bears just as much responsibility as Putin with respect to what we have lost, for instance, press freedom.

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