Read My Lips

Putin Shows His Bite

The best quotes and thoughts on Vladimir Putin — and how Russian democracy has fared under him.

Bit by bit — bite by bite

Takeaways


Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the aftermath of the Beslan terrorist attack to tighten his grip on power. This in turn has further heightened domestic and international concern regarding his commitment to democracy. Is Russia on its way to becoming a totalitarian state? Our Read My Lips feature explores the state of democracy in Russia.

Does Russia need a democracy?

“Russia needs a strong state power and must have it. But I am not calling for totalitarianism. “
(President Putin, January 2000)

What does one of his predecessors think of Mr. Putin's latest round of power consolidation?

“This will undoubtedly limit people’s rights. This may become another step toward stripping citizens of their voting rights.”
(Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader, September 2004)

How does Mr. Putin reply to such charges?

“Our efforts to strengthen our state are sometimes deliberately interpreted as authoritarianism.”
(Vladimir Putin, May 2004)

Has Vladimir Putin ever aspired to be viewed as a democratizing President?

"The Kremlin is very sensitive to accusations that Putin is like Mikhail Gorbachev — naively pursuing pro-Western policy without gaining anything for Russia."
(Alexander Pikayev, foreign policy expert at Carnegie's Moscow Center, March 2003)

How is Mr. Putin strengthening his rule?

“Putin seems to be emulating Singapore, or Chile under Augusto Pinochet — with economic stability the top priority.”
(George Soros, founder of the Open Society Institute, June 2004)

Do any other "models" come to mind?

“This Russian ‘democrat’ is remarkably similar to the ‘communist’ leadership of China.”
(Jim Hoagland, Washington Post columnist, November 2003)

What is one of Mr. Putin's primary tools in asserting his power?

“We are witnessing the restoration of the power of the KGB in the country — from the regions to the top of the Kremlin.”
(Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Russia’s leading sociologist, November 2003)

How do Mr. Putin's actions make Russia look from abroad?

“De-democratization at home.”
(Eliot Cohen, Johns Hopkins University professor, October 2003)

What is a more nuanced view?

“Putin’s general message is unmistakable. It is a call for a return to a paternalistic state with virtually no political competition and a limited venue for independent opinion.”
(Masha Lipman, Carnegie Moscow Center’s Pro et Contra Journal editor, March 2004)

Is that how Mr. Putin himself sees it?

“No one and nothing will stop Russia on the path to consolidating democracy, and ensuring human rights and freedoms.”
(Vladimir Putin, May 2004)

Not even terrorism?

“No excuses about the necessity of fighting terrorism can be an argument for restricting human rights.”
(Vladimir Putin, May 2004)

Does Russia need more reforms?

“We do not need reforms purely for the sake of reform. We do not need a permanent revolution.”
(President Putin, May 2003)

Why does Mr. Putin target businessmen like Yukos's Mr. Khodorkovsky?

“Yukos is important for Putin because he wants to show business that, if you want to make money, you have to be loyal.”
(Leader of one of Russia’s liberal parties, November 2003)

How do Russian judges view their country's justice system?

“Selective application of the law is a tradition here.”
(Sergei Pashin, former Russian federal judge, October 2003)

And finally, what seems to be a constant in Russian history?

“Nothing changes in Russia. All the power is concentrated in one man’s hand.”
(Vladimir Ryzhkov, Russian reformist member of Parliament, March 2004)

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