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Putin's Start Points to Authoritarian Rule Through 2018

  • James Brooke

Vladimir Putin’s six months back in the Kremlin may say a lot about his next six years.

In May, angry protests greeted Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term as president of Russia.

On inauguration day, Putin's motorcade swept through eerily empty streets of Moscow, Europe's largest city. The streets were emptied by police -- and by a special five-day holiday.

Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov says Putin is an authoritarian leader, ruling in isolation.

"If you look at Putin's last 6 months, after he came back to the Kremlin, he became much more conservative, pro-Orthodox church, anti-Western, autocratic,” Ryzhkov said.

Pussy Riot feminist musicians were tried for protesting against Putin in Moscow's main cathedral. The resulting two-year jail sentences boosted the Orthodox Church's backing of Mr. Putin.

Nationalists were happy to see the Kremlin cut American foreign aid programs here, and to see Cossack patrols in Moscow.

Laws restricting rallies and Internet access were rushed through the Duma by Russia's ruling party, concerned by what it viewed as foreign-sponsored subversion. New laws labeled political activists and political actions that were legal last year "foreign agents" and "treason."

Over 150 years ago, the slogan 'Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationalism' was the formula the czars used to rule Russia. Will it work in 2013?

President Putin says Russians first and foremost want law and order.

Speaking December 20 at his annual marathon press conference, he said: "The anarchy of the 1990s brought about the discrediting of a market economy and democracy. People started to fear those things. And I believe that order, discipline, following the letter of the law, it doesn't contradict democracy."

Ryzhkov again: "A big part of Russian society is still semi-Soviet, semi-czarist,” said Ryzhkov, co-chairman of the Republican Party of Russia. “So it's an old, old, old idea and methodology on strong hand, a great power, a country surrounded by enemies, first of all Americans."

In December, President Putin reaffirmed his year-long campaign against what he sees as foreign attempts to subvert his regime. Following those comments, Russia’s Duma passed a vaguely worded law that potentially bans more Russian non governmental organizations from receiving foreign donations.

Before the vote, President Putin said in a nationally televised address: "Direct or indirect interference in our domestic political processes is unacceptable. Those politicians who receive money from abroad for their political activity and thus serve, in all likelihood, alien interests shouldn't be politicians in the Russian Federation."

President Putin also is trying a positive tactic. He is trying to snatch a key flag from the protesters: the fight against corruption.

In recent weeks, corruption probes have brought down a Russian defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, and several high-ranking officials. State television has treated viewers to scenes of police removing bricks of 100 dollar bills from the home safes of government officials.

Bernard Sucher, an American entrepreneur, is skeptical about this highly publicized fight.

"As you start going from small to medium you start running into all of the heavy, dead hand of the Russian bureaucracy and red tape,” said Sucher, who has started companies here for the last 20 years. “Clearly we have at a minimum a reshuffling of the chairs at the top table. That is not the same thing as addressing on a systematic or any kind of programmatic way even the symptom of corruption."

Whatever the strategy, President Putin's goal is the same: to reach the end of his term - 2018.

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