< Russian Media Reaction to Putin as Presidential Nominee

Transcript

Friday, September 30, 2011

BOB GARFIELD:

Last Saturday we saw Russian democracy at work.

[DMITRY MEDVEDEV SPEAKING IN RUSSIAN]

INTERPRETER:

I believe it would be right for the congress to support the candidacy of Vladimir Putin in the presidential election.

BOB GARFIELD:

That was Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev at the Conference of the United Russia Party, endorsing Vladimir Putin as the party's nominee in the 2012 election.

Putin had already been president eight years, a period of relative stability, after the tumult of the Yeltsin era, until constitutionally obliged to step down after two consecutive terms.

Saturday's announcement was an open admission of what many had long suspected, that after four years of tandem rule with Medvedev, Putin was destined to resume full power of the country. The announcement was met with wild applause and was covered favorably on Russia's three major networks.

Christian Science Monitor reporter Fred Weir has worked in Russia for more than two decades. He says that despite the chokehold on major media that has been Putin's legacy, some dissent has seeped out, mostly in a handful of opposition media outlets that remain. But it hasn't much mattered.

FRED WEIR:

There's a certain amount of criticism, but it's mostly covering the to-and-fro of politics, much the same way an American network would cover American politics. And no one ever steps outside the boundaries of that on state TV.

BOB GARFIELD:

Describe for me some of the other coverage by less dominant channels.

FRED WEIR:

There are some smaller regional TV channels and there's a small network called REN TV and you could hear on the talk shows on REN TV worry that this can lead to stagnation in Russia, that Putin built his power on the basis of curbing pluralism and democracy.

And there's also a radio station, Ekho Moskvy, to which all of the liberal commentators who were forced out of the big stations in the early part of the Putin era, migrated. And there's at least one opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, and there you got the full bore kind of criticism.

And beyond that, there is the Internet, which is completely freewheeling and open.

BOB GARFIELD:

Did the Novaya Gazeta—or has anyone in the immense blogosphere—invoked the D word?

FRED WEIR:

The D word being dictatorship?

BOB GARFIELD:

Yeah.

FRED WEIR:

No. They use the word “regime” a lot and certainly there's that disgust there that this is basically the end of any pretense of democracy in Russia, that the whole thing was cooked up between two guys and announced to a cheering crowd who had played no part in making that decision. And this is basically the return of Soviet-style politics.

BOB GARFIELD:

Putin emerged just before the millennium, in the aftermath of the very tumultuous, chaotic, economically disastrous Yeltsin era, and was popular. He continues to be popular with the Russian electorate, does he not?

FRED WEIR:

Yes and in fact, he moved pretty briskly to do a lot of things that restored a sense of law and order, a sense of a working state after the shambles of the Yeltsin era. And he did a lot of that on the back of effectively nationalizing the main TV channels and bringing the media under control.

And he also came to power at a time that coincided with rising global oil prices. And this is the source of more than half of the Russian government's revenues. So the huge windfall of oil profits enabled Putin to restore really strong state power along with almost Soviet-style paternalism.

All that income redistribution of the Putin era probably blunted the protests that might have been at the curbing of elections and muzzling of the media and the crackdown on civil society that also took place.

BOB GARFIELD:

If nobody's agitating for a return to the kind of Wild West democracy of the Yeltsin era, if voices for true democracy are squelched and nobody cares, do they matter?

FRED WEIR:

As a journalist I've always thought that it matters a lot. I'm afraid that Russian leaders increasingly live in a bubble because they've cracked down on the media and basically manipulated Russian politics so that outcomes are virtually certain. They also don't get the signals that angry voters can deliver.

BOB GARFIELD:

There are journalists who are trying to render a watchdog function, and they're beaten, occasionally murdered in various ways, censored or intimidated. Can we assume that with the further ascendancy of Putin, that these problems are only gonna get worse?

FRED WEIR:

It should be pointed out that an awful lot of Russian political experts are saying that Putin may well use his new lease on power to institute sweeping liberal reforms. And — and there is logic to the — the Russian system is dysfunctional and no one should know that better than Russians, who have seen two states of this type collapse in the last century alone. I mean, they know that when you concentrate so much power and centralize it in the hands of such a tiny number of people, that no matter how powerful that system looks, it can just go poof, and Putin surely knows this. So a lot of people are hopeful that now that he's back on top and completely in charge, that he will use that new authority to do something real, and I'll believe it when I see it.

BOB GARFIELD:

All right, Fred. Thank you so much.

FRED WEIR:

Thank you. It was a real pleasure.

BOB GARFIELD:

Fred Weir is a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. He's been based in Moscow for 20 years.