News / Europe

    Russia Shrugs Off Allegations Against Putin

    Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on countering corruption, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Jan. 26, 2016.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on countering corruption, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Jan. 26, 2016.
    Daniel Schearf

    The story of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last few years has been one of his steady descent from a leader welcomed and even feted around the world to one who has had allegations of murder and corruption levied at him.

    Last month, a British public inquiry concluded Putin probably signed off on the 2006 murder of a former Russian spy in London by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents. And, a U.S. Treasury official told the BBC, Putin was corrupt in enriching his friends and amassing hidden wealth.  

    The highest offices on both sides of the Atlantic are vocally backing up the allegations.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron said the inquiry into the radioactive poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko "confirms what we always believed."

    In Washington, the Treasury official in charge of U.S. sanctions, Adam Szubin, last week called Putin corrupt – an assessment that “best reflects the administration’s view,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

    David Satter, author of a book to be published in May titled "The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin," says he has no doubt the allegations against the Russian president are true.  

    "Putin became president because it was necessary to protect Yeltsin and the Yeltsin family from criminal prosecution," he argues. "And who better to do that than someone who was a criminal himself and connected to the FSB?"

    Russia shrugs off accusations

    The Kremlin swiftly denied and condemned the allegations, calling the murder accusation “absurd theater,” and said they were politically motivated. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Friday said the U.S. officials’ corruption remarks were "insulting" and showed Washington was both displeased with its policies on Syria and Ukraine and was trying to undermine Putin’s possible 2018 bid to be re-elected president. 

    Most Russians, used to Western criticism of Putin, seemed to shrug off the allegations. A public opinion poll by the independent Levada-Center showed many were unaware of the details surrounding Kremlin critic Litvinenko's murder. The inquiry report, issued January 21, found two FBB agents poisoned his green tea with polonium, a highly radioactive substance.

    Moscow-based political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky was one of the first to put a figure on Putin’s alleged hidden wealth, $40 billion – a claim he repeated in the BBC program "Panorama" that broadcast Treasury official Szubin’s comments. 

    Belkovsky told VOA that few Russians knew of the detailed corruption allegations dogging Putin throughout his rise to power.

    "Federal television channels, which are the most important part of [the] total propaganda system of Mr. Putin, do not transmit ... such information," he said. "The vast majority of [the] Russian population is quite unaware of any allegations nor accusations regarding Mr. Putin and corruption."

    Opposition blogger Alexei Navalny, a leader of the 2011-2012 protests, has unleashed a steady stream of corruption allegations against Putin’s inner circle. Though ignored by state media, they’re gaining more attention than in the past. And numerous media reports claim there is a blurred line between Putin’s administration and organized crime in Russia.

    "The perception is that corruption is everywhere, on the highest level," says Alexander Baunov, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank. With Russia, "the population was ready to tolerate the relatively or even very high level of corruption because the corruption coincided with improvement of incomes and of the level of life for everybody." 

    But, Baunov cautions, that tolerance could weaken if Russia’s economy does not start growing again. The country’s economic output, stung by plummeting oil prices, shrank by 3.7 percent last year, its Federal Statistics Service recently reported. 

    Calculated distractions

    Yet Levada polls show Putin’s public approval rating remains at more than 80 percent, buoyed by Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and support for pro-Russia rebels in east Ukraine.

    Putin’s ratings peaked at 89 percent in October, after the start of Russian airstrikes in Syria forced the West to engage Moscow in dialogue, says Aleksei Grazhdankin, Levada’s deputy director.

    "The conflict with the western world gives Putin an opportunity to show his qualities of a strong national leader in mass consciousness," Grazhdankin says. "He acts quickly, vigorously, roughly. That's the way most people view a state leader." 

    Economic challenges

    But the Russian public may tire of new targets of military force as expectations focus on an improved economy, Baunov says. "Of course, there are ultra-patriots who are always expecting something like this. But, [the] general mood is: 'OK, you were great in Ukraine – in Crimea at least. You were great in Syria. Now, show how great you are at home.'"

    Satter notes Putin is constrained by a weakened economic position. 

    "But, on the other hand, he may well feel increasingly cornered, in a situation in which support for him is weakening," the author says. "And, to bolster that support, he may take measures that are economically counterproductive but, from his point of view, necessary in order to strengthen his hold on power. The most likely venue would be to reignite the war in eastern Ukraine, which they are capable of doing at any moment."

    Russian authorities have used western sanctions over Ukraine to avoid much of the blame for economic problems. 

    "That's why the rise of protests can be expected only in case of a catastrophic situation in the country's economy or under the growing economic well-being and prosperity of the population, which results in mass demand for civil and political rights," the Levada Center’s Grazhdankin says. "I can't say how probable the first or the second scenario is. At least the latter one is very improbable."

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Noam from: Bellingham, WA
    February 02, 2016 11:06 PM
    As an American citizen what I find deplorable are the ninety plus possible murders surrounding former U.S. president Bill Clinton during his tenure in The United States Government...!

    by: estonished from: round the corner
    February 02, 2016 5:47 AM
    Obama told us that he had "confident" that Assad's army used chemical weapons, and that he even had "proofs of heinous crimes". He even planned to bomb "the bloody criminal Assad" who is "responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims". Proofs it no one showed. Judging by the developments, Obama seems forgave Assad for the chemical attacks and mass murder. Now someone showed us with unfounded accusations of Putin in the murder of a former spy and gossip about his "secret wealth". In your tales of no one but yourself believes. Present the certain bank accounts and show certain objects of the "secret wealth", present the texts and the numbers of the orders of Litvinenko's murder, as well as alive witnesses of the Putin's "approval" of murder.
    Feed yourselves and your electorate by your "probably", "possible", "perhaps" etc.

    by: Leo from: Ukraine
    February 02, 2016 5:15 AM
    Dear friends,
    Please forget Russian fairy-tales about problems of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine. I am native Russian speaking , no any pressure on me since years. Just ask people from other cities in the Eastern Ukraine, where Putin's special hybrid ideas failed. Peace and no any fighting or repressions! Of course, if you watch Russian TV you see a lot! Dear Americans, you can never imagine how such people like Mr.Putin could lie! Don't trust anything coming from Russian media... Please! You will save thousands of lives!
    In Response

    by: Leo from: Ukraine
    February 02, 2016 12:00 PM
    Dear Alan,

    I am not a fond of Mr.Poroshenko at all. You are absolutely right that he increased his business, that he is not a type of crystal clear politician. At the same time I am quite sure he is under pressure of active people (not nationalists), and he has to do a number of things he would not do if have 100% power. Revolution a is not good thing if it is not peaceful, but it has one advantage - people at power understood that they can not be kings for ever. This is some element of social control, so called "negative feed-back". Yanukovich lost this feeling and had to flee from the country.

    Anyway, I know personally a number of people that are refugees from Donetsk, and they are pro-Ukrainian. So, I am not quite sure for 90%+ in Donbass area supporting Russia. We can discuss for ever for the reason, but sending armed people and weapon across the border of another country is aggression. That's all.

    Unfortunately, the result of this invasion is that a really huge number of Russian speakers in Ukraine are against Russia... You can check this asking people from Zaporozhie, Odessa, Dnepr... Using power Mr.Puting created much more pro-Ukrainian tendencies than it was done by local nationalists... Alas...
    In Response

    by: Alan
    February 02, 2016 10:05 AM
    Poroshenko is corrupt as well. Does he care for his people? No he doesn't. He increased his incomes since he became the president. We don't want anybody to die, we don't want anybody to be homeless! But people in Eastern Ukraine have made their choice. They want more freedom.

    by: Alan from: Russia
    February 01, 2016 1:37 PM
    We, people in Russia, have great respect for our President. Life has changed enormously, has changed for the better. When Boris Yeltsin was the President my salary was 80 dollars( I am a teacher) and in 2014 (before sanctions) my salary was 1000 dollars!!! Teachers, doctors, policemen, military get houses and flats. Our support is always with our President! Can you tell me that western politicians are not corrupted?!
    In Response

    by: Leo from: Ukraine
    February 02, 2016 5:19 AM
    So, guys if you are happy, you can justify thousands dead and millions homeless. You can justify your hidden soldiers crossing borders of other countries.
    BUT!!! You have to pay for the evil your government brings to other people, especially if you are supporting wars and killings. Then, be prepared back to 80 dollars...

    by: Anonymous
    February 01, 2016 1:11 PM
    Putin is so evil, he has no heart to drive a stake through.

    by: Anonymous
    February 01, 2016 12:18 PM
    Yellow press

    by: brandon from: Atlanta
    February 01, 2016 10:57 AM
    The story of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last few years has been one of his steady descent from a leader welcomed and even feted around the world to one who has had allegations of murder and corruption levied at him.

    That's just the story in UK and US. I've read other pieces from publications in different nations and I don't see any mention of him being a murderer. This is an obvious smear campaign especially when a judicial system uses terms like "probably" when accusing a man signing off on a murder.
    In Response

    by: Leo from: Ukraine
    February 02, 2016 5:26 AM
    Mr.Brandon, please check:
    2014 March, Mr.Putin: "there are no any russian military troops in Crimea"
    2014 Fall, Mr.Putin: "It was a special operation, and of course we used our troops over there".
    So, if you wife or a friend said similar lie, would you trust him or here anymore??? Please be aware, that people in Georgia, Chechnya, Ukraine also want to leave in a normal democratic conditions, and if they are not selling freedom and dignity for some dollars, it does not mean that they have not any right to make an order in own home without asking mr.Putin's agreement.
    In Response

    by: D.Folscher from: South Africa
    February 01, 2016 12:47 PM
    This ongoing campaign to discredit Putin, is laughable. They think they will achieve the same results as they did with Ghadaffi, Assad and Yanukovich. This must stop, as they will not get the Russian people to turn against Putin. The only thing they will achieve is allout war against Russia, and history shows that it doesn't turn out too well for those attacking Russia.

    by: Leo from: Ukraine
    February 01, 2016 10:35 AM
    Finally the truth is coming out... Russian Government may continue lying with propaganda that is very effective internally (like USSR did), but step by step the bare truth about corrupted bandit at power is coming through. Ukrainians know the truth now after getting war from "brothers" inspired by Kremlin masters, so dear People of the Earth BE VIGILANT!!!!
    In Response

    by: QUOC TUAN from: Vietnam
    February 02, 2016 3:36 AM
    You, the Ukrainians must not continue to spit at your ancestors's glory and belief because history will soon spit at both you and your president's face. Mind your own business. You are going to be bankcrupt now. Try to beg your western bosses for bread and butter.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 01, 2016 11:25 AM
    As some other anti-Putin critic once said; "what difference does it make" _ With the whole world erupting in chaos and violence now, does it make any difference if Putin is what they say he is, or if he isn't? .. Ukraine caused their own problems, when they overthrew their elected government by force, and that action caused a social breakdown of law and order with no working government, that led to the minority Russian speaking people to look for security and protection elsewhere? .. Putin and Russia?

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