July 31st, 2014
11:37 PM ET

The rise of Putinism

By Fareed Zakaria

When he came to power in 2000, Putin seemed a tough, smart, competent manager, someone who was determined to bring stability to Russia — which was reeling from internal chaos, economic stagnation and a default in 1998. He sought to integrate Russia into the world and wanted good relations with the West, asking Washington for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization and even NATO. His administration had technocrats who were Western liberals, well versed in free markets and open trade.

Over time, however, Putin established order in the country while presiding over a booming economy as oil prices quadrupled under his watch. He began creating a repressive system of political, economic and social control to maintain his power. As he faced opposition, particularly in the parliamentary elections of 2011, Putin recognized that he needed more than just brute force to defeat his opponents. He needed an ideology of power and began articulating one in speeches, enacting legislation and using his office to convey adherence to a set of values.

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Topics: Fareed's Take

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Come on, Fareed. Just what do you take us for? A bunch of of absolute idiots or what? There is nothing at all "scary" about your so-called "Putinism". Besides, the world needs someone strong enough to stand up to the right-wing thugs in Washington, London and Paris!

    August 1, 2014 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Igor

      Before Malasyan plane was shot down there was
      a prolonged intermission by CNN/BBC in reporting on Ukraine civil war. The fact
      that plane was directed through region of war where several planes were already
      shot down just underscores the fact that international community was largely
      ignorant of what is going on in Ukraine and did not take it seriously. The
      civil strife in Ukraine is not new. Ukraine region of Kiev is a starting point
      of Russia back in early middle ages. At the times of Ukraine/Russia origin both
      regions were ruled by same knights. Separation took place when rulers settled
      more towards northern areas. Whatever was called Ukraine in 17-th century
      voluntarily incorporated itself into Russia. Conflicts within Ukrainian
      population about disagreements on whether to be separate or part of Russia were
      going on and off from the time Ukraine/Russia can trace its history. One of the
      more notable episodes was a war between Peter the Great and Ukranian insurgency
      at Poltava (early 18-th century, when Swedish king sided with insurgents).
      About 10 million ethnic Russians live in Ukraine now; about 3-4 million
      Ukrainians live in Russia. Uncountable (millions of people) families have both Ukrainian and Russian sides. Ukraine never had an experience in
      independent statehood until 1991, when Soviet Union broke up. After revolution
      in 1917, the Bolsheviks organized a republic of Ukraine as part of Soviet
      Union. In 1920’s large parts of land (present day Estern Ukraine where civil
      war is going on) were transferred administratively from Russian Federation to
      Ukraine. This resulted in major Russian population in Eastern Ukraine. In 1954
      Crimea was transferred from Russian Federation to Ukraine.

      The present outburst of conflict was a result
      of many factors: 1. Malfunctioned state of Ukraine 2. An absence of agreement
      about degree of participation in European Union 3. Nationalistic riots 4.
      Concern of USA about Russia becoming stronger politically, economically and
      militarily over last 10 years, and therefore desire of US policy-makers to have leverages in the regions close to Russia. 5. Interference of the USA and support to
      Ukraine’s politicians who usurped the power in Kiev back in February 2014.

      What now? Airplane tragedy just provoked international
      attention. Thus, one should be
      aware that more than 1000 civilians were killed in Eastern Ukraine during this
      civil war by now. Ukrainian army continues firing on civil area in hope to
      intimidate and suppress resistance. The Ukrainian army sustains major casualties.
      There are protests in Kiev and Western Ukraine against sending soldiers to
      fight in the east. The economy is crumbling as Ukraine cannot sustain the costs
      of war on its own. Ukraine is asking USA for military and economic help. If
      this help comes Russia will upgrade its participation in defending revolting
      regions as Russia cannot afford to let Ukraine become a province of USA
      militarily and economically.

      The USA is trying to get Europe more tightly involved in economic sanctions.
      Interestingly, England who will suffer least (it does not import gas from
      Russia) is screaming the loudest tunes. Should US send military and financial help it will put enormous costs on US economy as Ukraine was collecting all sorts of help for last 25 years with most of it ending up in the pockets of corrupt politicians. What can be done? First, do not assume that Putin is aggressor. So far, he responded to a situation as a leader who cares about national interests of his country. Crimea had referendum, and naturally Russian majority decided that it is time to have Crimea as part of Russia again. They live in peace now, unlike Russian-speaking
      population in Eastern Ukraine. The only way to end this conflict is for USA to
      start serious negotiations with Russia and Ukraine, and stop giving illusion to
      Ukraine’s politicians that USA and Western Europe will solve their problems....

      August 1, 2014 at 11:58 am | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

        Thank you, Igor. Unfortunately, most Americans are ignorant of Russian history and have no notion of the feelings of the people over there.

        August 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
      • T.H.Davis

        Great Piece!

        August 1, 2014 at 6:45 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ My Troll, I would not say what you wrote
        Some of my most important mentors lived in Russia during the Nineteenth Century.

        August 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
    • clewisrobert

      Author’s email address: clewisroberts@hotmail.com
      The following few lines were posted on the Comment Section following a Fareed Zakaria column on Putinism. It was in response to two articulate postings critical of Obama and on the writers admiration for Putin and his philosophy.
      Well, Thing One and Thing Two,
      As I have nothing to do
      I’ll sit down and write a note to you.
      For it seems you are equating strength with ruthlessness.
      But it’s been a revelation to learn Hitler was a Putinist
      He wanted to keep his nation pure.
      But his methods were lower than vile of that we are sure.
      And if you were in Russia and thought as you do,
      With freedom from fear and thoughts of your own,
      You would be in jail and all on your own.
      Obama inherited a bad hand of cards.
      So why rip the President into shards.
      True, your list is long, but it smells of hate.
      Come on fellas you’re way out of date.
      I could give you more, but I don’t want to make you sore,
      So I’ll wish you good morning as I close the door.
      –clewisroberts

      August 3, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Is Viktor Orban an adherent of "Putinism"? He has followed in Putin’s footsteps, like embracing "nationalism" and "social conservatism" . Yet Orban "has enacted and implemented" them his way. He believes Hungarian values must take precedence, by appealing to nationalist sentiment and playing to an element in the national psyche that sees Hungarians as engaged in a perpetual struggle against foreign dominance – Ottoman, Habsburg and the Soviet Union. This justifies his defiance toward the European Union. Putin never fails to remind the world of the catastrophic demise of the Soviet Union and Russia's economic recovery under him, to boost nationalism.

    August 2, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Orban also rejects liberal democratic views, saying women have to go back to the kitchen and have children and allowing inflammatory anti-Roma and anti-Jewish comments be made by his politicians. As Putin and Orban are both autocrats, "the domination of media" is their tool to curb criticism. Both had eroded "judicial independence" and introduced tough media laws to suffocate free speech and expression. In Hungary criticising the ruling party, the centre-right Fidesz is seen as an attack on the Hungarians.

    August 2, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Fareed, before "Putin came to power in 2000" – as president, he had already shown that he "was determined to bring stability to Russia". When he made his inauguration speech as premier in August 1999, few were listening. He was Yeltsin's fifth premier in 16 months and the president was a drunkard. The country was broke and the basic infrastructure had collapsed completely. Many lawmakers believed this man was unlikely to head the Russian government for more than a few months anyway, so why bother!
      Putin laid out a blueprint for, how he would re-shape Russia. His most notable points were:
      "Russia's territorial integrity is not subject to negotiation. Or, especially, to horse trading or blackmail. We will take tough action against anyone who infringes upon our territorial integrity, using all the legal means available to us".
      "Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest abroad in both the former Soviet lands and elsewhere. We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored".

      August 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  4. David Williams

    Isn't the old name for this new Putinism, with its nationalism , state capitalism, propaganda, and religious fanaticism, "Fascism?"

    August 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  5. concerned

    Fareed, I came in on the middle of you talking about this on CNN and didn't know you were talking about Putin. I honestly thought you were discussing Obama as you talked until you mentioned Putin. The lines, individual rights and media control are being seen here in America to a lesser degree. You are warning and educating people as to how you feel Putin is spreading his ideas, when similar things are happening here and yet no mention of them.

    August 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  6. J. Portby

    All today's happenings should have been foreseen by analysing of how he came to power.. the whole scenario was rather revealing and predicting the outcome .. don't expect him to understand your language now..

    August 3, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  7. tszirmay

    I just heard your comment about Mister Orban and I was not impressed by your comments at all. I have a profound admiration for your intellect but you are highly selective in your arguments here. First, as educated as you are, I doubt you speak or understand Hungarian. You are just parroting previous left-wing Euro liberal propaganda, stating that Orban is a Putin admirer. Orban was a youthful leader of the 1989 "system change" that brought the end of Soviet military presence in Hungary, the withdrawal of Warszaw pact troops (the wishes of the 1956 student-workers who revolted against the Stalinist regime. To cal him a Stalinist, is well, pretty silly. Fact is, Fareed, the previous vile socialist thief government of Gyurcsany perpetuated the fascist vs communist dialogue , an endless 'you dirty this , you filthy that", a sickness which Orban and may Europeans left (no pun intended) behind by having such disgraceful old-school idiocy banned from the press and media . You think Congress is bad,,the Hungarian malady of constantly revisiting the past was way worse. So he put limits on these failed diatribes. Yes, he is a nationalist just like his good pal Sikorski in Poland. Truth is the Hungarians and the Poles, for obvious reasons, have no desire to copy anything Russian anymore.
    Your opinion is slanted, after so many years of agreeing with your rationale, here you have failed miserably .

    August 3, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  8. clewisrobert

    Author’s email address: clewisroberts@hotmail.com
    The following few lines were posted on the Comment Section following a Fareed Zakaria column on Putinism. It was in response to two articulate postings critical of Obama and on the writers admiration for Putin and his philosophy.
    Well, Thing One and Thing Two,
    As I have nothing to do
    I’ll sit down and write a note to you.
    For it seems you are equating strength with ruthlessness.
    But it’s been a revelation to learn Hitler was a Putinist
    He wanted to keep his nation pure.
    But his methods were lower than vile of that we are sure.
    And if you were in Russia and thought as you do,
    With freedom from fear and thoughts of your own,
    You would be in jail and all on your own.
    Obama inherited a bad hand of cards.
    So why rip the President into shards.
    True, your list is long, but it smells of hate.
    Come on fellas you’re way out of date.
    I could give you more, but I don’t want to make you sore,
    So I’ll wish you good morning as I close the door.
    –clewisroberts

    August 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  9. ferenc lakatos

    Hungary is like an oil state. Its oil is the EU infrastructural development fund. Since Orban destroyed the economy, scared the investors away (as it’s usual in an oil state) the EU funds keep the Hungarian economy alive. Because the money comes through the government to the people, everybody depends on their goodwill. This makes Orban strong, this makes him able to oppress this freedom loving nation.
    Everybody knows this in the EU, but no one is brave enough to admit that a european democracy turned into a dictatorship again (first time since the nazi Germany).

    The EU have to admit it! They have to stop funding Hungary as they funding directly the oppressor, and they don’t have the right to fund an oppression on the taxes of the EU citizens!

    August 4, 2014 at 11:47 am | Reply
  10. Shaun Sheridan

    What is missed is that the democraticly elected government of Ukraine was overthrown. USA law fobids it from supporting a new government created by overthrowing a democraticaly elected government but in this instance it suite the USA to ignore this. I wonder if part of the obvious Obama antaganism towards Putin is connected to Russia allowing Snowden to live there. We all know the embarassement that the Snowden revelations have caused so I am wondering if the support of the Ukraine government of which at least three ministers have neo Nazis outlooks is connected to Snowden.

    August 4, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  11. chri§§y

    Personally i think Snowden did the right thing! But i still think Putin is a roach of a human being!

    August 4, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  12. WAKE UP PEOPLE

    WAKE UP PEOPLE

    All of these comments do not help the situation – ONE LITTLE BIT. People need to stop blaming one side or another. (where has that got Israel or Palestine) All sides in Russia, Europe and the US, etc need to grow up. When you start talking or comparing about great people etc, not one of them you have mentioned have the virtues of Gandhi, Mandela or the like.

    Everyone on earth is special or has a purpose and "great leaders" work out a way of "working together regardless"! Rampant nationalism or radicalism is absolutely stupid and CAN ONLY BRING MISERY!

    WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    August 6, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Reply

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