Friday, December 17, 2010

Putin talks to the nation

Funny. While Medvedev is talking to the Federal Assembly, Putin is conversing directly with the public. 4 hours 29 minutes. His 2011 televised call-in Q&A session apparently broke all records, at least in Russia.

Questions ranged from the recent racist/ethnic riots, to requests for wedding congratulations. You can read the transcript of the entire session (in Russian) here.

Well done? Certainly, a very good PR move. At home. Abroad, it all seems to have become a matter of ridicule.

Image courtesy of AFP/New York Times.

A quick look at the major English-language media covering Russia reveal the overall perception:

I feel like The Christian Science Monitor provided the only decent and more or less balanced report (from the ones I saw).

New York Times:
In a marathon question-and-answer session that went on for four hours and 29 minutes, Mr. Putin offered a bravura defense of the central control that is a hallmark of his leadership.
The marathon event underlined Mr. Putin’s outsize role in Russia, nearly three years after he stepped down from the presidency. His successor and protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev, has articulated a tentative reform agenda well received in the West...
But Mr. Medvedev seems to be shrinking back from bold pronouncements lately, while Mr. Putin is sending a clear message that he is not only running the country, but also operating it manually.
The Washington Post:
"Those people sacrificed their lives to serve the Motherland, and there happened to be an animal who betrayed them," Putin said. "How will he live with it all his life, how will he look his children in the eye? Swine!"
After the 10 agents returned home in early July following a spy swap, Putin met with them and led them in singing patriotic songs.
Putin, a KGB veteran who led the main Russian spy agency before becoming president in 2000, insisted in a recent CNN interview that the agents had caused no damage to the United States.
The article then goes on to talk about Litvinenko and his alleged murder by the Kremlin. Don't you just love the framing?
In another article, BBC also focused on his comments regarding the riots and the spies, and his "defending of the police". Interestingly enough, however, BBC also ran a separate story about his comments regarding Khodorkovsky's case, whose trial is another major point of contention between Russia and the West.

[It seems, however, that most of this "contention" is coming from Europe. In a commentary (translated from French) published by the Guardian, Khodorkovsky is presented as the savior of Russian democracy (and suggested as "Hero of the Year"?!):
This man, formerly the richest man in his country, was accused of tax fraud in 2003 and has been languishing in a Siberian prison for seven years. His crime? To have wanted for his country a true democracy, as well as genuine respect for human rights. Real justice. And to realise this dream, this ideal, he intended to use his immense wealth to support political parties in opposition, which was not a welcome move at the highest level: a man who wants to spread hope has no place in this world. A man with a sincere vision for his country and his countrymen must be destroyed immediately.

Not that Russia is a democratic state, or one with decent human rights record. However, reading such comments sadly reminds me of that old Soviet joke about the potential success of "revolutions": "What if we win again?" Very sad.]

The Guardian had somewhat substantive coverage, too: 
Vladimir Putin grew his cult of personality to new heights during a marathon question-and-answer session today, sending a clear signal to Russia's liberals that they are not welcome in a country where security services rule supreme.
Putin often appeared at ease. One woman wrote to say she wanted justice. Putin read the question and laughed, saying, "we all want justice", before moving on to the next question.

Wow. But well, RussiaToday was there to save the day.

I think even Pravda would've done a better job. Though the last remark is indeed priceless:

Q: Who rules the country while you and the President of Russia are asleep? 
A: We take turns sleeping. Everything is under control. No doubt about that.

Bad public diplomacy. But, who cares, when domestic ratings matter more?

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