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Venezuela and Russia Voting on December 2 – Worlds Apart

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Venezuela and Russia Voting on December 2 – Worlds Apart

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Hugo Chávez lost the referendum on constitutional reforms. But is he really the loser? Putin's party, United Russia, won the election. Sure. But at what price?

Chávez is blacklisted by the western mainstream media, in particular by the U.S., as being anti-democracy, a dictator who just wants power for himself. However, he graciously conceded defeat even before all the votes had been counted, when it became obvious that the U.S.-supported opposition had carried the day. But dictators don't lose elections, do they? So what is the reality behind all this vilifying of President Chávez?

Putin is blacklisted by nobody, but who is the real dictator? The legislative election on December 2 was made into a personal vote for Vladimir Putin. Very consciously, with huge billboards presenting the 'Father of the Nation'. Russians may love him but the world sees the election as having been seriously flawed.

Background of Vladimir Putin

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Vladimir Putin was a largely unknown KGB man when he became Prime Minister in August 1999, mainly due to support from a clique of oligarchs connected to then-president Boris Yeltsin. The theory was that Putin would continue the support of the huge private wealth which had grown to enormous proportions during Yeltsin and was concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of mob-like plutocrats.

The first Chechen war, during Boris Yeltsin's term as President, had been a disaster for the Russians, with Chechnya emerging from the war virtually independent. Now Putin did everything possible to rekindle this failed war in order to unite the Russian people behind a new presumed threat to the safety of the nation. Of course the oil and natural gas deposits in Chechnya were probably a factor in this savage war, but how much this counted in the leading up to the war has been subject to many different interpretations and it is still not clear to what extent the war was connected to the Chechen national resources.

What many people may have forgotten by now is the series of huge and very suspicious bombings that rocked Moscow and the country in the late part of 1999. The bombings were attributed to Chechen separatists, which fit Putin like a glove fits the hand. The accusation that Chechen rebels were the perpetrators of those bombings has however always remained very much in doubt, even though the authorities obviously managed to convince the Russian public that they were the victims of terrorist attacks from this rebellious former republic of the Soviet Union.

There are, however, strong indications that the origins of the bombings had more to do with an attempt at bolstering Putin's image, that it was a bold and callous move by the government to unite the people around their leaders in a time of national weakness. The bombings were made to be seen as a terrorist threat against their country.

A look back on the Yeltsin era

The economic meltdown that occurred under Yeltsin in 1998, spurred on by the financial crisis in East Asia one year before [1], had taken an extraordinary toll on the lives of most Russians and destroyed their faith in the stability of their country. During Yeltsin's entire era the Russian economy was marked by selloffs of lucrative state-owned corporations, such as the energy giant Gazprom and Yukos, the major oil company. The Yeltsin era was marked by widespread corruption and gave way to a Mafioso rule that cost the state very dear and which actually ended up controlling the government.

Vladimir Putin elected President by a landslide

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Putin, who was to begin with a protégé of Yeltsin, was elected president by a landslide in March 2000 (he was the acting president after Yeltsin resigned on Dec31, 1999) and he straight away set a radically different tone in the governing of the country. The country was now faced with a man who was determined to break the power of the mafia and get the Russian economy back on track. What remained to be seen was what his means to that end were going to be. He turned out to be ruthless and extremely set on total control of the various branches of government while increasing power for himself. He took control of the media to an extent that had not been seen since the Soviet era, renationalized the big companies which had been privatized during Yeltsin and transferred power from the regional to the federal level. This restructuring of the Russian government had its apotheosis in September of 2004, in Putin's second term in office, when regional governors, rather than being elected by the local people, were now instead to be appointed by the federal government.

The Russian legislative election on December 2

The Russian people see Putin as the 'savior of their country' and, with the enormous popularity he enjoys, one wonders why the recent election on December 2 had to be so thoroughly manipulated. The personal power grab by Putin and the general repression of the media seem to be forgotten by the Russian people next to the fact that Putin, on an international level, has gotten back the respect for their country, turned the economy around after the meltdown of 1998 and that with the wealth from oil and gas Russia now ranks as one of the big powers that have to be counted with in international forums. With an oil production that ranks as the second largest in the world – after Saudi Arabia – Russia is an energy superpower and an increasingly important counterweight to the Empire in the West.

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Siv O'Neall was born and raised in Sweden where she graduated from Lund University. She has lived in Paris, France and New Rochelle, N.Y. and traveled extensively throughout the U.S, Europe, and other continents, including several trips to (more...)

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