Cultural Revolutions

A Front Man

Vladimir Putin's one-year anniversary as president of Russia was marked by a Soviet-style celebration. "We are back to pretending again," my Russian friend commented as we watched the stage-managed antics of several thousand young people, all of them wearing T-shirts bearing the likeness of Vladimir Putin, converging on Vasilevsky Spusk (adjacent to the Kremlin) on May 7. They are members of a pro-Putin youth organization, one of several that have sprung up in recent months. Everybody wants to suck up to vlast (the authorities, though the "powers that be" might be closer to the Russian) nowadays. Russian elites have more or less consolidated around the "little colonel," as the ex-KGB officer is derisively called by some of my Russian pals who see the hand of the Kremlin behind the "Marching Together" group's performance. Some of the participants openly admitted that "material incentives" had played a role in their trip (they were shipped in from all over the country) to Moscow.

Putin is obviously a front man, a suit put forward by elites to protect the kleptocracy built by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. He has not let them down. He put on a good show, seizing control of Vladimir Gusinsky's NTV station, running "Gus" out of town, and letting Russia's former "oligarch number one," Boris Abramovich Berezovsky (BAB), know he was unwelcome in...

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