Saturday, September 27, 2008

some say he's worth $60 billion

Vladimir Putin [born 1952]

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE: After eight years as Russia’s president, Putin’s still at the height of his power. He saw his approval ratings top 80 percent, thanks to an economy revived through energy profits, which has made it easier for him to get away with his antipathy to free speech and other civil liberties—he controls the media and imprisons or exiles his enemies. And cashing in on Russia’s natural resources has enabled Putin to pay off the nation’s foreign debt, rebuild its military, restore its pride, and re-assert its place in world affairs. Faced with presidential-term limits, Putin, 56, sustained his formidable power by becoming prime minister and leader of the overwhelmingly dominant United Russia party. He also all but installed his longtime protégé and former campaign manager, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as Russia’s new president through a reportedly rigged March election. But by all accounts Putin was the commander in chief in its recent foray into Georgia.
ENEMIES: Georgia and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is the leader of the opposition coalition Other Russia and has had the nerve to challenge Putin’s iron rule.
RUMOR HAS IT: Putin has secretly stashed away more than $40 billion (from Russia’s oil-and-gas riches) in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
EVIDENCE OF POSSIBLE LACK OF MODESTY: Putin’s exhibitionistic tendency to go shirtless (and show off his buff, hairless physique to photographers) while fishing with Monaco’s Prince Albert II or hunting in the Siberian mountains.
SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT: Putin has done little to rein in the country’s ruling kleptocracy. In a recent call to analysts, Rupert Murdoch said, “The more I read about investments in Russia, the less I like the feel of it. The more successful we’d be, the more vulnerable we’d be to have it stolen from us.”

Power in Russia is concentrated to a degree even greater than in Soviet times in the hands of a small group of people. Under the old regime, two large power blocs, the Communist Party and the K.G.B.  continually vied with each other for dominance. In the U.S.S.R., the K.G.B., whose job it was to gather information, provided much- needed corrections to the party line, allowing an occasional ray of light to seep through the ideological blinds. And while corruption was rampant in the Soviet Union, the competition between the two corrupt power centers meant that there were limits to what either could steal. Russia may be the first country in the world that is ruled solely by its secret police. They control the economy and steal from it; they control the television networks and also watch them, believing what they see. Russia has become a closed system, sealed off from the rest of the world by a wall of secrets and lies...Russians continue to inhabit a country which is Putin's creation and in which his authority is supreme, and they will be living in Putin's Russia for a long time to come.