[FOUNTAIN]Putin and a strong Russia

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[FOUNTAIN]Putin and a strong Russia

President Vladimir Putin of Russia likes to say he spent his childhood in a concrete jungle. His childhood neighborhood of communal apartments in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, was ruled by the law of the jungle.
Born a son of a poor laborer in 1952, Mr. Putin was skinny and small. But he learned to survive in the tough neighborhood, never pulling back from a fistfight. The first rule of thumb was to retaliate immediately when attacked. The second rule for him was to do his best until the end and treat every moment as the last.
Mr. Putin says no one could interfere in his struggle to be strong. As a boy, he learned boxing. When he broke his nose, he turned to judo. In his white judo uniform, he earned the nickname “snow leopard.” Then, he realized that he could not be powerful with fists alone. On his 13th birthday, he received a book called “Shield and Sword,” a novel that depicted fictional KGB spy Alexander Belov as a hero. After watching a movie based on the book, he went to a KGB branch office. An old KGB agent suggested that he study law, so Mr. Putin went on to Leningrad University and majored in law. Upon graduation, the KGB offered him a job.
With the slogan “Strong Russia,” Mr. Putin was named to succeed President Boris Yeltsin in 2000. As soon as he took office, he issued a series of hard-line orders. He retaliated against Chechen rebels and arrested oligarchs when they demanded a voice in politics. He did not mind international criticism when he refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and declared the right to engage in preemptive attacks like the United States.
As a result, the party supported by Mr. Putin scored a landslide victory in last Sunday’s parliamentary election. Mr. Putin seems sure to be re-elected in March, and some even predict that he will attempt to revise the constitution so that he can serve three consecutive terms.
Russian opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky calls Mr. Putin a true Communist. By that, the liberal leader indirectly refers to the characteristic of the Soviet Communist party to use all means, both fair and foul, to accomplish its goal.
In that sense, Mr. Putin seems to be following the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, not the style of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. As long as the law of the jungle holds sway, Russia will only get stronger.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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