On Sunday, Putin's party, United Russia, stormed to victory in the country's parliamentary elections with 63 per cent of the vote. It was a romp. United Russia now controls 306 of the 450 seats in the Duma, an overwhelming majority. The balloting was a referendum on Putin's leadership and it passed in a landslide. Now it's certain, that even if Putin steps down as president next year as expected, he will be the dominant player in Russian politics for the foreseeable future.
Vladamir Putin is arguably the most popular leader in Russian history, although you'd never know it by reading the western media. According to a recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal, Putin's personal approval rating in November 2007 was 85 per cent, making him the most popular head of state in the world today. Putin's popularity derives from many factors. He is personally clever and charismatic. He is fiercely nationalistic and has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of ordinary Russians and restore the country to its former greatness. He has raised over 20 million Russians out of grinding poverty, improved education, health care and the pension system, (partially) nationalized critical industries, lowered unemployment, increased manufacturing and exports, invigorated Russian markets, strengthened the ruble, raised the overall standard of living, reduced government corruption, jailed or exiled the venal oligarchs, and amassed capital reserves of $450 billion.
Russia is no longer up for grabs like it was after the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin put an end to all of that. He reasserted control over the country's vast resources and he's using them to improve the lives of his own people. This is a real departure from the 1990s, when the drunken Yeltsin steered Russia into economic disaster by following Washington's neoliberal edicts and by selling Russia's Crown Jewels to the vulturous oligarchs. Putin put Russia's house back in order; stabilized the ruble, strengthened economic/military alliances in the region, and removed the corporate gangsters who had stolen Russia's national assets for pennies on the dollar. The oligarchs are now all either in jail or have fled the country. Russia is no longer for sale.
Russia is, once again, a major world power and a vital source of hydrocarbons. It's star is steadily rising just as America's has begun to wane. This may explain why Putin is loathed by the West. Freud might call it petroleum envy, but it's deeper than that. Putin has charted a course for social change that conflicts with basic tenets of neoliberalism, which are the principles which govern US foreign policy. He is not a member of the corporate-banking brotherhood which believes the wealth of the world should be divided among themselves regardless of the suffering or destruction it may cause. Putin's primary focus is Russia; Russia's welfare, Russia's sovereignty and Russia's place in the world. He is not a globalist.
That is why the Bush administration has encircled Russia with military bases, toppled neighboring regimes with its color-coded revolutions, (which were organized by US NGOs and intelligence services) intervened in Russian elections, and threatened to deploy an (allegedly defensive) nuclear weapons system in Eastern Europe. Russia is seen as a potential rival to US imperial ambitions and must be contained or subverted.
In the early years of his presidency, it was believed that Putin would comply with western demands and accept a subordinate role in the US-EU-Israel centric system. But that hasn't happened. Putin has stubbornly defended Russian independence and resisted integration into the prevailing system. .
The triumphalism which swept through Washington after the fall of the Berlin Wall has been replaced with a palpable fear that Russia's power will grow as oil prices continue to soar. The tectonic plates of geopolitical power