Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 40

Virtually all of Vladimir Putin’s points and pledges, it is worth noting, were made at one time or another by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. From almost the start of Yeltsin’s tenure, for example, the former president repeatedly identified corruption and organized crime as strategic problems and promised to take measures to eradicate them. In his yearly address to parliament in 1997, Yeltsin even got to the heart of these problems, noting that the state interfered where it should not–that is, in the economy, via confiscatory taxes and bureaucracy–but was absent where it should be active–that is, in cracking down on organized crime and enforcing a level economic playing field. Despite Yeltsin’s words, however, he did nothing concrete to change the situation fundamentally. It should also be noted that while Putin talked about lowering taxes, his economics tsar, First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, has already ruled out any significant tax cuts. In addition, Putin did not include one of the promises Yeltsin regularly made but never kept–reducing the size of state bureaucracy. Another presidential candidate, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, has made this one of his election promises. In 1998, then Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said that 1,250,000 people had been added to the state apparatus between 1992 and 1997.

Putin’s open letter, therefore, should be seen more as electioneering than an indicator of what he really plans to do if elected. Not that he needs a new gambit to guarantee his victory on March 26. Two polls–one taken February 19-20 by the ROMIR agency among 1,500 people across Russia, the other taken February 18-21 by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) among 1,600 people across Russia–found 59.6 percent and 59 percent, respectively, of respondents backing Putin for president. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov came in second, with 22.8 percent and 18 percent, followed by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, with 7.7 percent and 3 percent. VTsIOM found that ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev were also backed by 3 percent of the respondents, and were thus tied with Yavlinsky (Reuters, February 24).