By Dr. Chuck Missler
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has been guided by three presidents: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and now, Dmitry Medvedev. The United States has always kept a concerned eye on the democratic development of Russia, with its far-reaching role as a world leader, its former Cold War tension with the US, its immense oil reserves and their role in the world economy, Russia's Middle East connections, and its nuclear stockpiles.
Putin: Former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is almost universally depicted, by both Russian and international media alike, as a grim and calculating political figure of unrivaled coolness. He is noted for his formal, unsmiling demeanor, his steely gaze, and his history as a judo champ KGB officer, as well as for his formidable resolve to rebuild and empower the former Soviet Union and lead it back into an economic and political position as a world-crowning superpower. Putin is a reflection of the old tsar archetype.
His early political career was originally tainted by his military actions against the former Soviet state Chechnya in supposed retaliation for a series of deadly apartment bombings that terrorized the Russian civilian populace. The bombings were pinned on Chechen rebels, though Russia had recently ended a war that had effectively crushed the Chechen region and had drawn worldwide criticism for human rights violations under Putin's high-profile direction.
Putin lead the Russian nation into a second bloody war with Chechnya and emerged as a powerful rebel-crushing figurehead, lauded by a frightened Russian public. In the meanwhile, former KGB operatives-turned-critics raised their suspicions that Putin himself may have orchestrated the series of bombings. The Russian government, perhaps through the KGB, may have had a hand in the hiring of long-time Russian mafia members. There were suspicions that the government had fabricated suspects from among rebels, even directing the security forces to rapidly move from the scene and destroy forensic evidence relating to the bombed-out apartment sites. Subsequently, informants, critics and investigative-crusaders such as Mikhail Trepashkin were dogged to their political ruin or even deaths.
Such was the apparent case with Alexander Litvinenko, who after his own zealous media campaign to expose the Russian government's involvement in the bombings, was slipped a lethal dose of polonium by former Russian intelligence agents. In a case that caught the world's shocked attention, Litvinenko died from the intentional poisoning and was unable to further his expose.
In 2003, John McCain told Congress that evidence remained to implicate the Russian government's involvement in the bomb planted against its own people, but American authorities and media seemingly have not delved further into the matter.
Medvedev: Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, seems to be a bit more down-to-earth. He comes from a background in business, and he sprinkles speeches and interviews with light touches of humor, keeping himself abreast of current events via the Internet. Medvedev openly declares his Russian Orthodox faith and his lifelong affection for British classic rock groups. He exhibits a mild but distinct departure from the habits of Russian leaders past, even his own Prime Minister and predecessor, Putin, whose manner and public interactions are markedly staid and severe.
Medvedev himself is aware of the media and Western world's criticism that he is a puppet leader, groomed and chosen to support Putin in his continued reign over Russian politics. He soundly renounces media claims that he is under Putin's direction and power, rather than the other way around.
In March, President Medvedev signed the high-profile nuclear disarmament treaty with President Obama, which Congress has yet to ratify. The leaders of two of the world's most powerful nations have agreed to scale down both of their nuclear arsenals, (which affects the US arsenals more than Russia's). Medvedev apparently approves of President Obama, and looks forward to interaction and negotiations with the US leader in the future. He chucklingly refers to the US President as "a thinker" and remarked to the media that perhaps he and Obama should begin to exchange text messages to keep in better correspondence.
While their styles are very different, Putin, and his favored successor, Medvedev, have provided the Russian populace with plenty of impetus for their apparently loyal support: a rapidly rebounding economy, a GDP that has risen six-fold, far-reaching institutional reforms purported to weed out corruption, and an unflinching national pride that seeks no approval from Western outsiders.
During Putin's first eight years in office, from 1999 to 2007, the Russian economy improved tremendously. Under Putin, Russia recovered from its 1998 financial crisis and unemployment dropped. Even now - after facing the worldwide recession - inflation in Russia has dropped to an 18-month low due to increased trade, and the ruble is at a 16-month high. Yet, Putin is preparing for Russia to borrow from the international debt markets for the very first time since 1998.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov recently both recognized Putin's strong economic record and criticized him for his planned deficit spending; "You, Mr Putin, have been determining the domestic and foreign policy of this country for 10 years. In 10 years, the Soviet Union developed entire sectors of industry and reached nuclear parity with the West. But what is happening in today's Russia ... Is this not a national disgrace?" Zyuganov asked.
Still, the all-pervading poverty of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras, the corporate and governmental gluttony, the perceived implied pity, correction, and disdain of Western countries all take a back seat in the minds of the Russian people when they see increased oil values strengthening the nation's economy, foods stocking the shelves of their markets, and Russian leaders negotiating more openly and confidently with other nations.
As the West deals with icy Putin and the more people-friendly Medvedev, we need to remember that the old superpower hunger has not disappeared from Russia. As Matthew 10:6 teaches us: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
Russia, CIS Economies Will Recover at ‘Moderate Pace,’ IMF Says - Bloomberg
Russia’s recession is over says Putin - euronews
Russia, Israel plan joint venture to produce drones - RIA Novosti
Nuclear Arms Treaty Headed to U.S., Russian Lawmakers Next Month - Global Security Newswire
Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging End-Times Military Coalition Against Israel - Ron Rhodes (Book)