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Daily Telegraph: The Russia created by Vladimir Putin

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 26/12/2006

Nearly seven years ago, on the eve of his becoming interim president of Russia, Vladimir Putin published his Millennium Manifesto. Following the collapse of communism and the chaos of the Yeltsin years, this was a blueprint for restoring Russian greatness which traced a “third way” between discredited Bolshevism and Western liberal democracy. The key was the restoration of the power of the state, whose monopoly of violence had been challenged in the 1990s by a combination of mafiosi, politically ambitious oligarchs, media barons and regional governors.

As he takes stock more than half-way through his second presidential term, Mr Putin will doubtless feel he has all but completed his project.

The oligarchs have been neutralised, the media censored, the governors brought to heel. Economically, state power has been reasserted through tightening control of oil and gas production, whether by breaking up Yukos or threatening Royal Dutch Shell and its two Japanese partners on Sakhalin island with criminal action on environmental grounds.

Europe relies on the Kremlin for about a quarter of its gas supplies, a proportion set to grow. Last July, Mr Putin hosted the G-8 summit in St Petersburg, and next year should see Russia’s long-delayed entry into the World Trade Organisation. Both at home and abroad, Moscow presents a much more formidable face than it did under Mr Yeltsin.

There is, however, a reverse side to this transformation. Russian democracy under Mr Putin is remarkable for the absence of checks on executive power. Political and economic strings are largely pulled by bureaucrats trained, like the president, in the intelligence services.

In foreign policy terms, the influence of these so-called siloviki translates into bullying of countries in the “near abroad”, whether they be Lithuania, Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine, and a truculent attitude towards the West over matters of mutual concern such as Iran’s nuclear programme. At home, the siloviki are scaring off much needed overseas investment in the oil and gas industries.

Mr Putin has chosen a strong bureaucracy as the instrument for fulfilling his manifesto goals. But bureaucrats are notoriously resistant to innovation and, lacking proper parliamentary supervision and rigorous media investigation, are doing lasting damage to Russia’s reputation.

Using energy as a political weapon has cast into doubt the Kremlin’s reliability as a Western supplier. The shocking murders of the investigative journalist Anna Politovskaya and the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko recall the murky world of Soviet intrigue. There is a gangster element in Mr Putin’s Russia which has put the West and its allies on their guard. Bolshevism is not about to return; but sullen bolshiness is hardly the mark of a power destined for greatness in the 21st century.

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