Was Vladimir Putin’s carefully choreographed plan to return to Russia's
presidency in 2012 a big blow to democracy or a victory for stability?
It all depends on who you ask.
US says Russia 'reset' to last, Putin fuels doubts
Putin to return as Russian president
Russian Jews, it seems, say that Putin's return after a four-year stint
as prime minister is good news for stability, and that's good for the
country’s Jewish community. Critics, however, say it’s a sign of
Echoing traditional Jewish sensibilities,
Yevgeniy Satanovsky, head of the Institute for Israel and Near Eastern
Studies, a think tank in Moscow, says that Jews do not have to worry
“Putin is neither an anti-Semite nor anti-Israel,” Satanovsky said.
Russia’s Jews, whose estimated numbers range from 500,000 to 1 million,
Putin marked a departure from the anti-Semitism of past Communist
elites and of the once all-powerful KGB, which he served for nearly two
Putin was the first Russian leader to visit Israel,
where he attended an official reception. He also visited a Moscow
synagogue, participated in candle-lighting ceremonies on Chanukah and
reportedly had an open door for one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, Berel
While human rights groups reported surges in xenophobic
attacks at various times during Putin’s presidency, Jews rarely were the
Lazar said Putin should be credited for driving anti-Semitism out of Russian political discourse.
in today’s Russia “would not risk taking anti-Semitic or a so-called
anti-Zionist stand,” Lazar said. “Any impartial observer should
acknowledge Putin’s big role in this.”
As president and prime
minister, Lazar said, Putin “paid great attention to the needs of our
community and related to us with a deep respect.”
But the Putin
regime also earned a reputation for intimidating political opponents and
journalists, and rolling back democratic reforms. As evidence, critics
say one need look no further than the way he has orchestrated his return
The announcement about the next stage of Putin’s rule
over Russia came Sept. 24, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev,
Putin’s handpicked successor to the post, said he would not run in next
year’s presidential election. Medvedev then backed Putin’s return to the
Kremlin. In return, Putin offered Medvedev the prime minister’s chair
Putin, the president from 2000 to 2008, was
constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive four-year term.
The 2008 arrangement that made Putin the prime minister for four years
was widely seen as a sign that Putin would retain control over the reins
of power, and his intention to return to the presidency confirms that
thinking. With presidential terms extended to six years by Medvedev -
presumably with Putin in mind - Putin, who turns 59 this week, could
serve as Russia’s president until 2024.
His public approval rating is high and he isn’t expected to meet any formidable political challenges.
popularity is explained largely by Russians' yearning for order and a
strong hand skillfully wielded by the Kremlin's political advisers. Over
the years of his rule, Putin effectively sidetracked any real
opposition, put the brakes on political dissent on national airwaves and
turned Russia’s Parliament - dominated by his United Russia party -
into a virtual arm of his regime.
Liberals find his plan to return to the presidency deeply disturbing.
honestly shaken by the impudence with which this was all done,”
Yevgeniya Albats, a prominent Russian Jewish journalist, told Echo
Moskvy Radio, one of Russia’s few remaining liberal media outlets.
have witnessed how all institutions of the Russian Federation were torn
down - the constitution, the elections,” said Albats, the editor in
chief of The New Times weekly magazine in Moscow.
Putin for dismantling many of the democratic achievements of his
predecessor, Boris Yeltsin; for failing to implement many substantial
economic and social reforms; for nurturing widespread corruption; and
for creating a system in which only those with ties to his clan can
Others argue that Putin’s return, no matter how it was orchestrated, is a fair reflection of realities in today’s Russia.
may not be happening all nicely, but democracy is not built overnight,”
Satanovsky said. “Putin is coming back to power as a real leader of a
large political and economic clan. Can it change soon? I don’t see how.”
early years of Putin’s presidency were marked by Kremlin pressure
against Russia’s oligarchs - the once politically influential Russian
business tycoons, many of whom were Jews. But in recent years, most
leading business figures in Russia have withdrawn from political life,
marking a victory for the Kremlin.
Despite the fact that many of
those oligarchs were Jewish, Satanovsky notes that Putin never let his
political, business and even personal battles “translate into anything
While the Putin era has not been good for democracy in Russia, Jewish
life in the country has continued to thrive. Thousands of parents send
their children to Jewish schools and camps, and new synagogues and
community centers are being added every year. There even are new museums
opening in Moscow.
Despite these gains under Putin and his loyal successor Medevedev, a
sense of unease left over from the olden days persists among many Jewish
community leaders, who declined to speak on the record with JTA about
the perils of Putin’s cavalier approach toward democracy.
“There is a certain frustration in the society,” said a Jewish leader
who requested anonymity. “But the revolution is nowhere near. There is
no democracy, and life goes on.”