Thursday, May 10, 2007

Putin Has Clamped Down,
But One Harvard Expert
Argues His Vise Grip is
Absent in Certain Areas

'Although the authoritarian drift (of the Putin regime) is beyond denial, it has had its limits. United Russia is a coalition of opportunists and hangers-on, not a purposive or disciplined force. The Putin team sets priority targets: television, political parties and elections, and uppity businessmen. Outside that zone, the vise has been tightened less or, on many points, not at all. For instance, there has been no attempt to encumber interpersonal communication or access to information networks. Cellphone penetration has surged to 60 percent countrywide and to 80 or 90 percent in the big cities, and 25 million Russians are estimated to have surfed the Internet unimpeded in 2006, in contrast to China, where the government screens websites. Nor has there been serious infringement on intellectual and cultural life, which by all indicators has been rebounding from a low point during the economic hard times after 1991. In the vast majority of court cases that are nonpolitical, the judiciary functions better than in the 1990s, and jury trials have been made compulsory for the most severe crimes. Economically, private capital still predominates, despite state inroads in the energy field. As for the business class, it has made far more money during Putin’s reign than it did during Yeltsin’s. Forbes magazine registered not a single Russian billionaire in 1999 or 2000, in the aftermath of the 1998 crash. In 2006 it listed 33, the third highest total in the world (behind the United States and Germany), and their net worth had soared from $91 billion to $172 billion during the preceding year.'
--Timothy J. Colton, a professor of government and Russian studies, writing in the current Harvard Magazine. He's now at work on a book to be entitled Yeltsin: A Political Life.


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