Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Where's Putin?


From the grins of Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel at their meeting in the eastern German city of Dresden yesterday - the day of Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral at Troyekurovskoye Cemetery in Moscow - one wouldn’t think they were much concerned about the journalist’s brutal murder. And certainly, where Putin is concerned, at least, one would probably be right. He spoke of the murder being “an abominable crime” - but the forced manner in which he altered his otherwise beaming facial expression in order to utter the words, suggested he though otherwise. He also made a revealing remark about how “[Politkovskaya’s] killing has damaged Russia’s reputation much more than her articles”, thereby showing that he does consider that her “articles” damaged Russia’s reputation, in spite of all his talk about how Politkovskaya’s influence on the country’s political life… was minimal.”

The Putin-Merkel talks were mostly about “economic ties” between Russian and Germany, with Merkel saying that she “trusted Russia as a reliable business partner”:

“It is important for me to have realized that we are acting on the same business principles as the Russian government in this cooperation,” Merkel said.

“We are currently working out a joint charter in which these principles will be enshrined. As a matter of fact, I’m not reluctant either to accept Russia’s increasing importance in the business world which is being reflected in the fact that Russian companies are buying themselves into European firms.”

The West’s muted response to Politkovskaya’s murder can in general be traced to the same concerns over security, energy and commerce, which were also evidenced by a similar lack of focused criticism of Russia’s outrageous behaviour during the Georgian crisis last week. In relation to Politkovskaya, only Finland’s prime minister Erkki Tuomioja had the courage to make a strong public statement which in addition to expressing profound sorrow and regret also called Putin’s role into question: “The fact that this kind of murder is possible challenges the credibility of the country’s government,” Tuomioja is quoted as saying. “Let’s see how willing and able Russian officials are to solve it … wherever the track leads.” Such forthrightness contrasts with Tuomioja’s performance during the recent Lebanon war - perhaps he feels the need to make amends at least on this issue.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL has been uncovering some of the layers of Putin’s psychological response to crises and disasters in Russia, which always seems to involve a long delay in making any public response at all. This contrasts, however, with his alacrity in responding to trouble elsewhere:

Putin has proven to be quick to react to crises in other countries. He was the first world leader to contact Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

At home, however, he has frequently come under criticism for his inaction in the face of tragedy.

In August 2000, when the Kursk submarine sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea with 118 men on broad, Putin waited for five days before he broke a holiday on the Black Sea to comment publicly on the disaster.

In the meantime, he had found time to send birthday greetings to a well-known actress.

He was also criticized for his slow response to the seizure of a Moscow theater in October 2002 and the Beslan school siege in September 2004.

See also: (RFE/RL) Putin's Comments on Politkovskaya Anger Activists
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