Putin Wins, Chechnya Loses

Thousands of people gathered in Moscow on 10th March 2012 for a rally against Vladimir Putin’s presidential victory. Crowds who have been waging series of demonstrations against the feared ex-KGB boss’s policies were wearing white ribbons to symbolize their fight for free and fair elections in Russia. Putin won a six-year third term as president in the recently concluded presidential elections in March.

At the end of the tightly policed rally, leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov attempted to lead an unsanctioned march of around 60 people to a central square, he was stopped by police.

Even though international vote monitors say the election was skewed in his favour, most opposition leaders have been forced by the margin of victory to acknowledge that Putin was the winner.
Officials results showed the prime minister and former KGB officer won almost 64 per cent of votes and put the runner-up, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, on less than 18 per cent.

“The main slogans of the meeting were ‘For honest elections’, ‘For honest authorities’ and ‘Putin is not our president,'” Udaltsov commented.

After holding four mass protests over the last three months, and successfully breaking the taboo against opposition rallies in Russia, the movement now faces a huge challenge to decide where to go from here.

Putin, currently prime minister, won 63.6 per cent of the vote in the elections and is now preparing for a May inauguration to take back the Kremlin job he held from 2000 to 2008 from his protege Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin came to Russian center stage under the former president Boris Yeltsin, who made him Prime Minister in 1999, after serving in influential national security and intelligence offices. At the time of his resignation Yeltsin named Putin Acting President in 2000. Putin easily won the election in March 2000, followed it up by getting reelected in March 2004. Due to a constitutional bar Putin nominated Dimitry Medvedev as his successor in 2008. Medvedev in turn nominated Putin as the Prime Minister.

It was Putin’s war on Chechnya that made Russia resemble Orwellian style police state, for the first time after the collapse of Soviet Union. Allegedly, sometimes the price one had to pay for being critical on the war on Chechnya was ones’ life.

Chechnya declared independence as a Republic in 1992 during the breakup of the Soviet Union. The First Chechen War began in 1994 when Russian forces entered Chechnya, occupied it and unleashed a reign of terror in which more than 100,000 people, mostly Chechen muslims, died. It was followed by years of cat and mouse chase between Islamist fighters under Shamil Basayev against the mighty Russian army. Chechen fighters lead an attack on Dagestan which in 1999 which became the trigger point for Russian nationalists to rally support for an all out invasion. Unconfirmed accusations on Chechen separatists blamed for a series of Moscow bombings finally lead to Putin’s popularity and support for a full scale war. Russia established direct rule over Chechnya in May 2000. Russia drew international condemnation for its widespread violation of human rights.

Russia is expected to play an influential role in world politics under Putin. Under a wave of newly freed Arab republics riding on NATO firepower Russia will need to keep old alliances alive, hopefully with the right state actors.

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