Putin Is a Reminder of Russia's Unpleasant Past
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is hailing yesterday's election results as a sign of trust from the Russian people. Putin had billed this parliamentary election as a referendum on his leadership, and his party won. Some observers and opposition groups accuse Putin of manufacturing the victory.
News analyst Daniel Schorr has been reading the papers and reflecting on the Russian leader.
DANIEL SCHORR: Maybe, the image of the three dolls in the window of the St. Petersburg gift shop said it all - Lenin, Stalin, Putin. In his sweeping victory in an election widely regarded as rigged, President Vladimir Putin took a step toward reinstating the culpa personality that 50 years of post-Stalin leaders, from Khrushchev to Yeltsin, had worked to end. Huge billboards all over Moscow feature slogans like, Putin is our choice. Opposition billboards were rarely seen. The election was at least nominally for parliament. Putin was at the top of the United Russia list. But there was no doubt that Putin was playing it as a referendum on his rule.
And his government took extensive measures to ensure a big turnout. In Russia, there is the notion of the (unintelligible), the big boss who will solve all the problems. Putin has managed to present himself to the appetite of Russians as being the man in charge. He's been helped by a moderate improvement in living conditions. He has played what columnist Tom Friedman calls petropolitics - using Russia's vast oil resources to bolster his position internationally. That may not be good news to the Western world.
Putin has found that standing up, especially to President Bush, wins him kudos from those who feel that Russia was humiliated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was probably no coincidence that Putin shows the week before yesterday's election to announce withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which limits the deployment of conventional weapons. That was part of the campaign against Mr. Bush's plan to put elements of a missile defense system in former Soviet satellites, Poland and the Czech Republic.
It was probably also a gesture of defiance that Andrei Lugovoi is getting a seat in parliament. Lugovoi is wanted in Britain in the investigation of the radiation murder of Putin opponent, Alexander Litvinenko. How will Putin wield power with his term expiring next March and the rules barring him from serving a consecutive third term? He hasn't said. Could be as prime minister or could be by designating a president who would then resign. How Putin the (unintelligible) will wield his power, that's not a question that many Russians are apparently worried about.
This is Daniel Schorr.