The "return" of Putin
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March 4th, 2012
09:30 PM ET

The "return" of Putin

Editor's Note: The following is an edited version of a previous post.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Now that Vladimir Putin has been re-elected president, Russia is going to look remarkably similar to before he was elected. Why? Because Putin, in a sense, never left. Putin was running the government and the economy on a day to day basis. While he had ceded the presidency, and therefore foreign policy, to Dmitri Medvedev, it was really a charade - Putin was behind most of the most important decisions anyway.

If Putin wins the next election, which he is allowed to run for, he will have been in charge of Russia for over twenty years, maybe twenty five years. This is longer than Stalin.

One wonders whether Russia is really willing to have one man - even if a somewhat competent man, and even if someone whom they regard as having restored Russia - rule for that long. I have a feeling that, while the protests that we saw over the last few months were small, they represent some degree of public dissatisfaction with this idea of a kind of life-time czar.

The Russian economy is based on essentially oil, natural gas, diamonds and nickel - it’s all natural resources. It’s really a Siberian Saudi Arabia. And in order for Russia to develop - economically and politically - it has to be able to diversify its economy.

So far there are very few signs of this. And you have to say, one of the reasons might be that it isn’t to the advantage of the regime to diversify. The more you diversify, the more prospect there is for losing political control. As long as you have what is essentially an oil economy - oil, natural gas, natural resources - all that can be very neatly controlled by the regime.

With Putin now back on top fully, there might actually be a small benefit that comes from it - that is, he’ll now want to be the deal maker, whether it’s with Obama or the Europeans.

The odd thing about Vladimir Putin is he’s a very, very shrewd analyst. I’ve met him a few times, and I’m always struck by his very strong analytic skills. He is a very good debater, for example, whenever he’s trying to present a position. And he’s written these newspaper articles for various Russian newspapers that analyze Russia’s situation, including all of its problems - political, economic, lack of democracy, for example - and he does it all very intelligently.

He doesn’t seem to understand that he is the source of many of those problems. He is the architect of the system that he is creating, and that’s where you wonder if there’s some kind of strange self-delusion where he doesn’t understand that he is at the heart of the reasons that Russia can’t progress in the way that he is describing.

Perhaps there will be some kind of revelation where he begins to understand that and loosens up and opens up the system. I very much doubt it. I think more likely, it will take some kind of sharp shock from the outside to bring that realization.

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soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. AmericanRod

    I smell A RUSSIAN Spring!

    March 5, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
  2. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Here are some facts:

    a) While Putin may have some excesses, it requires a strongman like him to govern that nation.

    b) While oil & gas revenues have helped, nobody can take away credit from Putin & his astute policies for Russia’s economic revival.

    Having said that:

    c) Mr. Zakaria’s criticism of Putin, is NOT a reflection of any genuine concern for the Russian people, but is just a camouflage for his utter HATREDNESS for all things Russian given their stance on the Chechyan Islamic terrorist issue.

    The same holds good for Mr.Zakaria’s disapproval (albeit cleverly camoflaged hatredness!) of the US (for support to Israel, FBI monitoring etc.), Europe (for not admitting Muslim Turkey into the EU, and opposition to Islamic radicalism), India (for its suppression of Kashmiri Islamic militants) and literally all over the globe wherever Muslim issues are involved……in line with his Muslim Ummah!

    March 5, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA


      While Russians do have enormous expertise in several frontiers of technology often times rivaling the west– incl. in Space exploration, Defense industry, Nuclear energy, Ship building (ships, submarines, ice breakers) etc. nobody can deny our own interest in not only downplaying those achievements, but also preventing them from succeeding.

      March 5, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
      • ddblah

        But Russia does lack economic diversity. In the long run, I think diversity pays. Without diversity, all those things that you said Russia is good at will vanish because they all need the support of a lot of other industry.

        March 5, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • For @ Indian dude Amite

      And your stance is spreading hatred against muslims. Why don't you change your screen name to Amit-Hindu-Indian nationalist. Why hide behing u.s

      March 5, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
  3. Thor

    Who cares about all that claptrap? If the individual has knowledge and uses it for the common good, both in America AND in Russia, you are a good little citizen. What's wrong with helping the common good? What's wrong with helping the common man? .. There is nothing wrong with that. Only the malcontents, who are too stupid to take advantage of the assets of their surroundings will fail. Sailors at sea for decades have revelled in their independance from the worldly problems of the United States and the Soviet Union. If you work hard and smart, then you will prevail and you will be happy. If enough of us pull together, the governments, and their petty leaders: (Putin, Obama, et cetera...) are of no consequence other than a face in the history books. Leaders are human too.... provide them with what makes them happy and they will be happy too. Drinks at five! Join the international association of romantic couple swaps and the women will be happy too...

    March 5, 2012 at 10:42 am | Reply
  4. ddblah

    Russia = election w/o free press.

    Guess, this is true in US too?

    March 5, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
  5. For @ Indian dude Amite

    I was hoping to see Amit here. He is compelled to comment on every single Fareed Zakaria article, typically spewing hate against Fareed, his ex fellow countryman and Muslims in general.

    March 5, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  6. Vitaly

    Growing up in Russia in the 90s, I'll tell you one thing. It is Putin who brought the sense of stability to the country. Call it coincidental (i.e. oil prices sky rocketing) – but it happened. If you think the guys before him were 'democratic' – think again – nothing but corruption, wars, obscene behavior, and running country dry. Again, not to say that Putin is great, but he is definitely a lesser evil. Much lesser! Look around him – a communist leader, a truly crazy liberal democratic leader, an oligarch, etc.

    One interesting observation – I've been watching Russian election coverage over the last few days and can't help but notice how skewed it is! It is almost as though it is fashionable to critic Putin and call him an monster, even compare him to Hussein or Chavez. Not a single positive remark. Monster, monster, monster. Did anyone for a second think of all the opportunists who give interviews to the western media? I haven't seen a single interview or an average Russian, say from Kostroma. Ask them how they feel! In true democracy a president will represent the people and not the 2% elite (intellectual or financial).

    March 5, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply
    • boink

      in a true democracy u dont tell Medvedev to take the lead for 4 years and appoint u PM and do as your told for 4 years then tell them to step down so u can come back for 8... that isnt democracy that is a dictator.... injecting fake candidates to into the race to diminish real opponents also....

      March 5, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
      • ddblah

        Russia has an elected dictator.

        I wonder what will happen if Putin dies (sorry, I am imagining the unimaginable). Are Russians going to act like North Koreans and crying their hearts out and thinking the world would end in a second?

        March 5, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA

      I do agree.

      Russia's situation can be compared with the Arab Spring with the ONLY CRUCIAL difference that after decades of communist rule, it will take a while for Russia to see genuine democracy, while that remains almost an unachievable task in most Islamic countries.

      Until then, Russia surely needs a strongman like Putin to once again become an economically strong power, and stop it from further withering away as it did after the collapse of the USSR under weaker regimes.

      And, also plz. check out my above response.

      March 5, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
    • Lukos

      I honestly don't think Putin in power is necessarily a bad thing in the short term for the U.S. or the West in general, and not even for his own people, but his almost paranoid need to blame everything that is wrong in Russia on "outside influences" brings to mind the U.S.'s own McCarthy-era Red-baiting past more than 50 years ago. A strong Russia can help counteract the West's sometimes heavyhanded approach to nation-building, but that doesn't mean we have to be actual enemies instead of cooperating countries with sometimes different viewpoints. Unfortunately, Putin's own heavyhandedness towards internal dissent and blind-eye towards the slaughter in Syria are contributing to the West's distrust of him and his approach. I know, I know...the West also has a history of ignoring allies atrocities, but that doesn't mean Putin has to follow the same course. I actually agree with his idea of staying out of other countries business, but there are some times when governments and individuals have to stand-up to tyranny and violence against civilians. Negotiation and restraint is what Putin tells everyone to exercise in international relations, but doesn't seem to want to do internally. And as to your point about the average person vs the 2% elite intelligensia, isn't that the same argument that was made in 1917? I see that same argument being waged among the politically vocal left and right here in the U.S., and it does nothing but polarize people and stall any kind of forward momentum towards a more stable future for all of us. I'm not saying Putin is a monster, only someone that is all too human and needs to be watched like anyone that has that much power in their hands, like we should watch our own Western leaders and call them to task when needed. Of course, people here don't tend to disappear when they write bad things about their beloved leader...they just get blackballed from the mainstream press :-)

      March 5, 2012 at 11:52 am | Reply
  7. boink

    I love all the posters not taking the issue at hand... Putin is a dictator by definition.....
    He never left power and why did Medvedev not run again when he had another 4 years coming? Oh yeah dictator Putin told him not too OR ELSE....
    where is all the uproar that Medvedev was a bad president??? well cuz he never was president Putin was for the last 4 years and the previous 8 and the next 8 eh...

    March 5, 2012 at 11:16 am | Reply
  8. ddblah

    Dear Russian Posters:

    It is obvious that you think Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin. While this might be true in your twisted minds, in reality, Putin is just one person. When people start to think the leader is the country, the country is moving decisively towards dictatorship.


    March 5, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • Attenborough

      honey, for how long did you think over this wisdom of yours? Is this the maximum level of your ironical potential? Pls try a bit more!

      March 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  9. Novo

    It's very clear that the name Fareed Zakaria is synonymous with "amateur arm-chair analyst"

    Fareed, try making a statement without you ad-hominem attacks and straw-man arguments, I understand that is not what CNN wants but for the sake of journalistic integrity, come on.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
  10. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    Heh heh. Looked at all the ticked off Russian Putin fanboys posting. Gorby's the guy who set the USSR on the path to the 21st century. Putin is an ass.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Attenborough

      Gorby is the man who doesn't dare now to appear in Russia. He celebrates his 80th anniversary in London. He knows perfectly well that his countryfellows will beat him up if he walks alone without bodyguard somewhere on the territory limited by Kaliningrad and Sakhalin island

      March 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  11. United We Stand Divided We Fall

    Whether Medvedev or Putin is in charge I believe that Russia is in good hands both internally and diplomaticly. Russia may not be the industrial might as the US, but as Fareed pointed out, it is rich in natural resources and seems to be doing just fine economically. And as far as dimplomatic affairs are concerned, I believe the last time Russia meddled in another country militarily was in Afghanistan in the 1970's. Its just amazing that for a country that's as big and militarily advance as Russia, it doesn't go around the world flexing its military muscles and bullying little guys with its military hardware like the US and Israel. Well, kudos to Putin and Russia!

    March 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  12. Mike


    Your article has one giant hole in it: towards the end, you assert that "[Putin] doesn’t seem to understand that he is the source of many of those problems," then you go on to analyze the issues based on that assertion-premise.

    Have you considered that Putin does, in fact, know PERFECTLY well that he is the source of those problems, but is willing to do or say whatever it takes to keep his stranglehold on power? Have you forgotten that his entire pre-political career was in the KGB when it was still the Soviet Union?

    Come on, Fareed. Wake up. Putin is playing the system like a harp from hell, all the while (as the shrewd politician that he truly is) stepping back and "objectively and impartially" analyzing the issues that Russia faces.

    To you, it may be obvious that he is the problem, but you are a sophisticated analyst of geopolitics. To the average, relatively uneducated member of the Russian proletariat, Putin is a type of savior working alongside the common man to repair the systemic corruption and issues of a nation held captive by invisible evil forces bent on destroying it.

    It's the ultimate sleight of hand, Fareed. It's a chess match with no rules and limitless deception. And no one was better trained to do those things effectively than the KGB.

    Putin could care less if the rest of the world sees his game; all that matters is that enough common Russians are deceived to keep him in absolute power. With that accomplished, the rest of the world can kiss his derriere, as far as he's concerned, because they'll be forced to negotiate with him anyway.

    So perhaps you should rethink your assertion-premise, and utilize your appreciable analytical skills to take this angle into account. I think it's pretty close to unquestionable reality. And it's sad and tragic, both for Russia and for the rest of the world.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
    • United We Stand Divided We Fall

      Well, perhaps the people of Russia are satisfied with Medvedev or Putin as their leader because they keep re-electing them to office. Moreover, that also seems to be the case with the other political figures in Russia who seem reluctant to present themselves as an alternative to the status quo.

      March 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  13. Martin

    Of course, no one with any idea on what's going on in Russia ever believed for a second that Putin gave up any of his real power behind the scenes. This is simply his fourth term, the one where he was Prime Minister, he was defiinitely still in charge.

    With widespread election rigging charges, Russia is slowly slipping back away from Democracy.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  14. Joke

    I'm glad Putin is back, the west has someone that can put them in their place; there were no widespread election rigging in Russia, and there's not going to be a Russian spring either....

    March 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  15. Mike B

    Mr. Putin doesn't seem to have any opponents of stature, intelligence or fame, that are able to mount any serious threat to his return. Control seems pre-determined and leadership a formality. It would seem many Russians feel he isn't that bad a leader.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  16. Natfka

    I personally like how Zakaria says "he just doesnt understand that he is the problem". First he says how analytical Putin is, and how intelligent he is, and then declares he doesnt understand Russia's problem. It seems that after reading this article it only says "Im smarter than Putin".

    If Putin really is that intelligent, we would be wise to pay heed to what Putin desires. Be wary and cautious, he probably playing us. Especially our current administration who thinks they are the most intelligent group on the planet.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  17. soulcatcher

    I used to have a comment on this story, then I took an arrow to the knee...

    Which brings me to this one, In America you can take an arrow to the knee and have the knee replaced with one twice as good. In Russia, they leave you kneecapped also replace your voting finger 10 times as good!

    March 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  18. vg

    "very shrewd analyst" or "doesn’t seem to understand that he is the source of many of those problems", make up your mind, Fareed. Btw, even very shrewd analysts need some info for their analysis. It's widely known that Putin doesn't know how to open a web browser. We're talking about a country where internet is almost the only source of what's really going on in Russia.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  19. dadismen

    i see people have diverse ideas about what is happenin this days. the onlyy reason why the people chose Putin is becoz there is no one else to choose. people of russia wouldn't believe other candidates and are scared. scared that they wouldn't repeat the history again(which lasted in default and chaos in 1990s) thats why. Russia has to do a lot in politics, economics, social ( specialy in respecting other nations and nationalities) aspects.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  20. carlyjanew6

    March 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  21. Oscar Jimenez Sanabria - Costa Rica




    March 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Reply
    • sibrusmind

      How do elections in Russia affect you? you seem to be getting all feathered up, do tell, maybe your worry is legitimate. no worry, Russia will put you under its wing soon, Monroe doctrine shaking a bit.

      March 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Reply
  22. Mohammad A Dar

    A perfect answer to western hinduism, criminality around the globe to make every one their gentile, slave,

    March 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  23. AlexShch

    I guess it is over now. At least for now. Tomorrow, March 6, Alexey Navalny, Sergey Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin, Ilya Ponomarev and others will start serving their 15-day sentences for "making public nuisance" (or whatever it is called) and
    in 15 days they will be out and back into the business of updating their Livejournal web pages. Business as usual.

    March 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • AlexShch

      This becomes now truly boring: all of them were let go and are already out after spending just a couple hours in monkey cage while policemen were processing paperwork. The opposition is left without opportunity to show their courage and even without opportunity to complain about the brutal non-democratic regime.

      March 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  24. Jannani

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2. In 1953, America overthrow Iran's democratic government and installed a brutal dictator. During Iran-Iraq war, America supported Saddam, which killed over million Iranian people. In 2003, America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ Iraqi people and displaced 4,000,000+ Iraqi people.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 24 trillion dollar by 2015.

    March 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  25. joe mon

    Fareed is an american ass kisser , and by the way fareed sure needs a BUTTPLUG

    March 6, 2012 at 4:56 am | Reply
  26. 4commonsensenow

    The man isnt stupid. He won't let the west just come in and take over russia and turn it into a corporation. When your opponent is always trying to influence your nation and change your standards(lol, what they do to each other) no real business trust can be instilled long term. History shows dont try to take the russians down, you will lose. Putin I dont think wants world domination like some corporations, just wants Russia to be distinctive and respected.But what do I know.

    March 6, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  27. Alex

    At least the protesters in Moscow weren't sprayed with tear gas like American kids at the US Davie campus. They were given time for their free and lawful assembly, but then several leaders decided that leaving peacefully would not give them any publicity whatsoever. Have you read anything about their speeches BEFORE the 200 young "Spartans at Thermopylae" decided to take a stand?
    You didn't follow these happy Spartans on the Twitters, did you? Well, I did. They were jubilant, they got exactly what they craved for – publicity. Mr. Analny, for example, twitted, "I am in a bus #2022. I wouldn't recommend to burn it, but slashing tires would be nice!"

    March 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  28. Timmy J. Shafir

    Thats it? topic forgotten by ADHD :) Who won?

    March 9, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Reply
  29. Alakuloinen

    Fortunately, majority of Russian people don't support Putin as North Koreans support their leader. They also see corruption, oil dependency and everything other that is propagandized in western media with such an euphoric onanism. But they have already been intoxicated with 1990s chaos as well as with soviet stuffiness. They want nothing of that. But they see what happens worldwide. They see Yugoslavia bombings with no reaction by reporters without borders (well-known for their "love" of russian press freedom) on journalists casualties during these attacks. They see Chechen separatists unleashing terror while OSCE hails democratization of Russia, and restoring peace in Chechnya while OSCE criticizes "russian terror". They see marijuana-democratic Afghanistan and bomb-democratic Iraq, They see happy free anarchy in Libya and nothing changed in orange Ukraine... At least Russian "pro-putin" TV don't show the whole spectrum of western cold war idee-fixes, as well as western media doesn't introduce the favorite Russian "opposition leaders" which are hardly kind democratic agni Dei. What can be Russian reaction? At least we can sleep peacefully under this "autocratic thief" Putin.

    March 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  30. Tamiah Acunaj

    Yup, you are right Google is the finest in support of blogging, Googleis website as well come up to fast in search engines too.

    July 17, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
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