Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 1

Russia rang in the New Year with, among other things, the final version of its new/old national anthem. The hymn was played immediately after President Vladimir Putin finished his New Year’s address to the nation (Russian agencies, December 31). Russia’s parliament voted last month to revive the anthem’s music, which was written in 1943 by Aleksandr Aleksandrov. Several days before New Year, Putin selected the new words for the revived music, which were written by the author of its original lyrics, Sergei Mikhalkov. While Mikhalkov’s original version had praised Josef Stalin and the author apparently remains a fan of the late Soviet dictator, his new version confines its praise to Russia and mentions God. Putin–who reportedly chose Mikhalkov’s new lyrics over those offered by Aleksandr Shaganov, author of hits by the patriotic pop group Lubeh–explained his rationale for reviving the modified Stalin-era anthem on December 30, during remarks delivered at a Kremlin reception. The Russian president called the anthem “an important indication that we have finally managed to bridge the disparity between past and present,” adding that “one cannot be in permanent contradiction with one’s own history and the destiny of one’s own country” (Russian agencies, Moskovsky komsomolets, December 30).

The New Year marked the end of Putin’s first year as Russia’s head of state, and a raft of assessments of Putin’s performance marked the year’s waning days. Among these was a poll taken by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) in mid-December. It found that 44 percent of those surveyed called the “counterterrorist” operation in Chechnya Putin’s “most necessary action,” but that only 11 percent believed it successful. Thirty percent of the poll’s respondents listed the fight against “oligarchs and media magnates,” including Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, as the president’s key initiative, but only 8 percent said it was effective. Twenty-nine percent listed “efforts to reform the economy” as being of paramount importance, but only 3 percent noted any success. Twenty-three percent said the president’s key task had been to establish both legality and one set of rules for everyone, but only 3 percent thought these had been achieved. Nineteen percent listed “efforts to uphold state interests in the economy and in politics” as Putin’s most important initiative, but only 5 percent believed that it had been accomplished. Sixteen percent said the most important initiatives were federative reform and strengthening “the vertical of power,” but only 6 percent believed that these had been achieved. The president did better in two areas: raising salaries and pensions (54 percent to 33), and foreign policy activities (20 percent to 16). Interestingly, only 12 percent of those polled called Putin’s laws confirming Russia’s state symbols, including the new national anthem, as his most important initiative, with 9 percent saying that his actions in this area had been successful. The VTsIOM poll, which was taken December 15-18 among 1,600 Russians in eighty-three towns and cities located in thirty-three of the country’s eighty-nine regions, had a 3.8 percent margin of error (, December 21).

Members of Russia’s political elite–or at least those interviewed by pro-Kremlin media–tended to rate Putin’s first year more favorably. Dmitri Rogozin, chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, said that the year had seen the start of “the strengthening of Russia’s greatness and dignity” and that it was a “good sign” that Russia was being led by “a young and energetic president.” Both Boris Gryzlov, who heads the pro-Putin Unity party’s faction in the Duma, and Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak called the “strengthening of the power vertical” one of the main results of the outgoing year. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said that the main development during the year had been that Russia had achieved “a certain stability” (Russian agencies,, December 31). Other observers were less enthusiastic. In a counterpoint to the comments of Rogozin, Prusak and Stroev, Segodnya columnist Leonid Radzikhovsky wrote that Putin, thanks to high world oil prices and an absence of domestic political opposition, had managed in his first year to consolidate the “bureaucratic nationalism” and “nomenklatura capitalism” which had developed under his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, resulting in a kind of stability reminiscent of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s “era of stagnation” (Segodnya, December 29).