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February 23, 2005
Putin May Have More Problems On Horizon

One of the closely-watched aspects of George Bush's European diplomacy has been his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Prior to his latest trip to the continent, critics wondered if Bush would press Putin to return democracy to Russian politics, and were surprised when Bush publicly and pointedly did so. However, the London Telegraph reports tonight that Bush's advice may have come too late, as Putin faces new pressures at home that threaten to undermine his increasingly autocratic rule:

Once known as the Teflon president for his deft handling of public opinion, he is increasingly seen as a ham-fisted leader who is out of touch with the needs of ordinary Russians.

In the past two months hundreds of thousands have demonstrated throughout Russia to denounce the president's policies, the largest protests in the country for more than five years.

His popularity in the army and police - formerly mainstays of his support - are reputed to be falling. In a panicked attempt to plug his leaking support, the president ordered army salaries to be increased by 20 per cent and police pay by up to 50 per cent.

But such measures will hurt an economy that has already lost some shine and could further fuel demands by millions of other Russians for a greater slice of the pie.

We have heard little about Russia's internal tensions as opposed to Putin's slow slide into authoritarianism, but the Russians have not stood by silently. Putin has not completed his transformation into a dictator, and before the window of opportunity closes, it looks as though some Russian politicians intend on stopping the process. One former Putin protege and the leader of Russia's largest political party called Putin a "tsar" and asked why anyone should keep pretending that Putin is doing any good.

Under these circumstances, one might understand better the recent diplomatic record of Putin. He can't afford to eschew the Iranian mullahs' moolah; he needs their money to pump up his sagging economy and pay off the army and police to keep supporting him. If that means arming a bunch of lunatic Islamists with nuclear weapons, well ... as long as Putin keeps the chuck wagon on time, I guess that's just fine.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 23, 2005 8:13 PM

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