Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#6 - JRL 7187
The Russia Journal
May 19, 2003
An empty address

On Friday, President Vladimir Putin delivered his latest annual address to the nation. In it, he called for doubling Russia's GDP in the next decade, resolving the conflict in Chechnya, trimming the bureaucracy and reforming the armed forces.

It is hard to disagree with any of these proposals. And, in the tradition of Soviet and Russian leaders since Perestroika began over 15 years ago, it was an optimistic address.

However, the glorious futures promised by Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and, now, Putin, remain a chimera. Blossoming corruption, endemic clannishness in the political system and bureaucracy, the defense of entrenched interests to the detriment of the country as a whole and the use of the judicial system as an instrument of arbitrary power are on the rise (although Putin should be commended for streamlining the country's legal system).

If the past three years are any indication of what is to come, the promises made in the presidential address are likely to turn out to be more of the same.

Putin's heart may well be in the right place. But he has proven to be a cautious politician; he was put into power in order to bring stability to the country while not damaging the interests of the political and financial elite, after all.

The Putin regime is beginning to resemble that of Leonid Brezhnev, who never stirred the waters and always maintained the status quo - while sending troops into Afghanistan in a show of might that turned out to be illusory. The Putin administration may be remembered in a similar way - for having maintained the status quo at a very high price, including a bloody war in Chechnya.

Putin is all-but-assured of a second term in office. Then, the "Family" elite will probably have less of a hold on him. One hopes that he will make good use of his independence in that period.

Until then, we must resign ourselves to hearing more of the same old sad rhetoric and seeing no real, substantive action taken to roll back some of the suffering that is the everyday lot of many Russians.

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