Friday, December 16, 2011

The Russian bear speaks, but doesn't listen

Vladimir Putin periodically has recently had another question-answer session on Russian TV, called "Direct Line" (to the Kremlin, presumably). In this tenth installment of presidential grace to the great unwashed, he answered a total of 88 questions during 4.5 hours Marathon.

Putin did not elude a key question about protests, however, in his answer he did not manage to maintain an even tone until the end. He suggested installing web-cams throughout the polling places in Russia, only to observe that it would "removing grounds for those who want to delegitimize power in Russian Federation".
This session was unique in that a large number of tough questions from the viewers were allowed to be asked of the president. The present answered all of them although the responded with unexpected harshness to some inquiries.

Semi-elections of governors. During Putin's presidency governors of various regions of Russia started being appointed by Putin, rather than directly elected by local voters. The results are predictable - these governors owe allegiance not to the people in their regions by to the tsar Putin. Corruption is inevitable. There is a lot of discontent with these appointees, especially in the more remote regions.

As a concession to his subjects Putin offered semi-elections of governors. Rather than directly appointing governors, Putin would restrict himself merely to approving the list of candidates for these elections. The people will pick governors from a government-approved list. How will they behave in office? I think this is a terrific idea: semi-elected governors will be semi-corrupt semi-representatives of people and constitute great progress for a country so poor, it cannot afford luxuries of morality.

The journalist asking the questions forwarded people's frustration with corruptions of governors: "Excuse me, Vladimir Vladimirovich', he said respectfully referring to Putin by his patronymic, tell us please, by names, will we see new people [in positions of governors], and will there be 'jailing' [of corrupt officials]? Of course, in our country fighting corruption is a form national amusement and depends on who's asking this question."
"So, we may begin with you," said Putin without thinking. "Not from you personally, but in general."
Clearly, asking about corruption is Russia, especially if you're a journalist is like asking "For whom the bell tolls?" - it's a bad idea.
In fact, another prominent journalist has been shot dead yesterday in the volatile Dagestan republic in the latest in a series of killings of Russian journalists. A masked assailant fired 14 shots as the journalist left the office on an independent newspaper renown for fighting corruptions, and facing down treats. A number of European leaders spoke about about the persecution of journalists in Russia.

Journalists in the capital are murdered less often in Moscow that in the previous two decades, and have been replaced by non-lethal repression. Three days ago, after journal "Power" published a photograph of a election bulletin with an indecent message for Putin from an anonymous citizen, it's main editor, Maksim Kovalsky, was fired. This was also asked of Putin, but he laughed off the infamous bulletin and did not comment to the price paid by the specific journal or journalism in Russia as a whole. The published picture was not edited by the journal, it went viral because it revealed the thoughts of millions. Published after the unprecedented protests on December 10th the reality of those sentiments has been revealed, providing amply justification for publication of that picture.
Here's the cover for which editors of Kommersant journal "Power" have been fired:

The small text on the left say: Victory of/by single-party-ballot-stuffing. The second word in white is a whimsical construction from several roots, for which Russian is well known. The made up words contains roots 'single', and 'stuffing' in place of 'voting' as play on similarity of these two Russian words.

According to Putin, the this phrase was written on a ballot "in London, where people came to the embassy to cast their ballots," Putin said during his annual Q&A session broadcast live on Thursday.

Read more on this in a Kiev paper.

Another question to Putin was: "Does Russia have any allies?" launched Putin into a diatribe about selfish Americans: "don't need allies, but vassals". America relies on 'so-called allies' Putin preached, while Russia has friends (Syria, Lybia, Venezuela, presumably). To nail the coffin of America's evils, Putin told his audience that John McCain participated in slaughtering innocent civilians in Vietnam.

The the other side of preaching his virtue is denouncing and belittling the demonstrators. In a high class joke Putin said the white ribbons (similar to the support-the-troops American ribbons) on the demonstrator as initially looked "sorry, like condoms" to him and he thought they were promoting an anti-AIDS initiative.
This disrespect to legitimacy of their grievances will only stoke fires of public discontent. The lies are too blatant, and are failing as a result. To hold onto power Putin is going to have to use increasing amounts of force - an eventually for which he reserves the rights, which is one of the reasons Russia has provided so much political cover for repression in Syria - they're concerned the day is nearing when they may have to resort to similar tools.

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