A protester tries to dial a number on his cellphone as he is being dragged… (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles…)
He’s back: Vladimir Putin was inaugurated Monday to his third term as president of Russia.
One thing about the Russians -- they like their strongmen. First the czars, then Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and that lovable bear of a guy, Brezhnev.
OK, so Mikhail Gorbachev fell short of true strongmanship, and likewise Boris Yeltsin. But the latter bequeathed us Putin, and the ex-KGB guy has proved more than capable at keeping himself in power.
And how does he do it? Well, for one thing, he pays attention to the little things, as Times staffer Sergei L. Loiko described:
The center of Moscow, which was rocked by clashes between the anti-Putin demonstrators and police the day before, was quiet Monday morning. Riot police blocked thoroughfares and streets along the president-elect’s route from the seat of the Russian government, the Russian White House, to the Kremlin.
Dozens of protesters who tried to stand on the sidewalk and cry “shame” to the passing motorcade were detained, among them opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who had been arrested during Sunday's protests and fined 1,000 rubles before being released.
True, Stalin would’ve simply shot anyone who uttered the word “shame” in his direction. But this is the 21st century, and things are more subtle now. Still, I doubt anyone has said “no” to Putin in a while.
Putin also has what it takes when it comes to public speaking. For example, he was able to keep a totally straight face in taking an oath “to safeguard the rights and freedoms of man and citizen, to observe and protect the Constitution of the Russian Federation, to protect the sovereignty and independence, the safety and integrity of the state, to loyally serve the people.”
Not sure what part of that doesn’t apply to those arrested protesters. Perhaps protecting “the safety and integrity of the state” means having to stomp on “the rights and freedoms of man and citizen”?
And, like any good chief executive, Putin has a backup plan: His own personal fall guy, Dmitry Medvedev, the former president (well, that was his title, although everyone figures Putin was running the show) who will now become prime minister.
And if/when things go bad, guess who’s going to get the blame, and the boot? So long, Dmitry, and thanks for playing. Don’t let the dacha door hit you on the way out.
Finally, consider this: Stalin ruled for almost three decades and was still going strong into his 70s.
Will anyone really be surprised if the 59-year-old Putin is still around 20 years from now?
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