Russia: Putin's Absolute Rule

by Z*

The new rankings of press freedom in the world from Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres or RSF from their French acronym) should be headlined "Putin Without Borders." The new rankings place Russia at #141 out of 173 countries evaluated. The report attributes such poor performance to the "Putin-Medvedev duo." Certainly, there is a global consensus on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's importance in Russian politics and his control of the state media. Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev's role is considerably diminished. It doesn't seem excessive to picture the new president, Medvedev, constantly on the phone consulting with his prime minister, Putin (who served as president from 1999 until earlier this year). There is no duo in the country; ruling is Putin's solo.

The events of the past few weeks only prove it to be so.

Medvedev was scheduled to deliver his first state-of-the-nation address last week. However, the day before he was to give the address, he decided to delay his appearance. According to sources cited by the daily Ej, the decision to postpone the long awaited appearance was due to "the blocking above." While ridiculing such references to Putin as if he were God (which, Russians are afraid, is almost true), Ej reports that such a decision makes sense. The omnipresent prime minister (Putin's influence and power seems not just ominpresent in Russia but also in the near abroad) keeps reassuring his doubtful nation that Russia's economy is stable. Hence, Medvedev's plan on how to tackle the troubling economy is out of touch with the current domestic situation, as Putin has shaped it. Also, those few independent reporters who kept Russia from scoring #173 in the RSF rankings have expressed their concerns with the prime minister's current economic plan. They think that the crisis presents a great opportunity to make more money for those in power. Therefore, it's a bad time for the so-called "highest official" to come up with an anti-crisis plan for every branch of the government. Independent reporters and Putin seem to have that covered already. The whole political process during this economic crisis has more or less rendered Medvedev irrellevant and his speech as an inconvenience.

The good news for Russian reporters is that their new president is walking in their shoes — he is feeling the sting of state censorship.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(The political graphic is by Thai Handicrafts via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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