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Russia's Challenge to Vladimir Putin

(Washington, DC--August 27, 2002) Russia has "attempted democracy backwards," Professor Richard Rose, Director of the Center for the Study of Public Policy (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland) told an RFE/RL audience today, marking the publication of his newest book, ("Elections without Order: Russia's Challenge to Vladimir Putin"). He believes that the current state of Russian democracy is defined, contrary to the experience in many Western democracies, by elections involving politicians without strong institutions or political parties.

Rose stated that his data show that Russians today are concerned less with the country's transition away from Communism, than with their government's performance. Drawing on a wealth of survey data, Rose presents a decidedly mixed public assessment of that performance. Today, Rose observed that while Putin's personal popularity rating is 75 percent, public trust in the Russian government is much lower, around 30 percent. A high proportion of Russians favor political and economic stability. Non-enforcement of laws and government corruption, moreover, are seen by 66 percent as the chief obstacle to Russia becoming a "normal" society. Most Russians also favor an end to elite power struggles. Putin's high popularity is due to progress in some of these areas, most notably, stability. But with each passing year his ability to address major problems diminishes, especially fighting crime and corruption. One way Putin could attack crime, Rose suggested, would be to use "salami tactics"-- attacking major criminal groups one-by-one. However, Rose added, Putin's "taste for salami is not yet clear."

Despite wrenching social and economic changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a steady increase in those who believe that the Russian government respects freedom of speech, religion and assembly. However, more Russians want to be free to live their own lives and try to solve their own problems than they want to join political parties or form organizations. While Rose agreed that Putin has moved systematically to restrict the national media, he also noted that the effect on most Russians will be minimal. They have long experience in drawing their own conclusions from what they see around them, not relying on the press. This tradition, combined with Russians' new freedom to communicate with each other, mitigates the effectiveness of the Kremlin's campaign to orchestrate the media, according to Rose.

Russians' view of the prospects for an economic turnaround is less optimistic, according to Rose. While many believe things are getting better, they do not expect genuine improvements in the standard of living for most Russians for at least another decade.