[FOUNTAIN]The emergence of a new czar in Russia?One of the most tragic scenes in the history of World War II was the blockade of Leningrad, Germany’s nearly 900-day siege of what is now St. Petersburg. From Sept. 8, 1941, early in the war, until Jan. 27, 1944, when Germany was defeated, Hitler’s army blockaded the jewel of eastern Russia. During the siege, 800,000 of the 3 million population died of famine and disease. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s older brother was one of the victims of the war.
Mr. Putin was born in 1952, when Leningrad was revered as “the city of heroes.” His role model was Peter the Great, a wise ruler who paved the way for Russia’s advancement into a modern state in the early 18th century, and a czar with absolute authority. Peter spent 18 months in England and the Netherlands in his youth, disguised as a laborer working at dockyards to personally learn advanced technology, and brought Western European engineers with him when he returned to Russia.
Mr. Putin grew up cherishing the dream of a wealthy country with a strong army, or the glory of Peter the Great. Growing up in the Cold War era, Mr. Putin’s best option was the KGB, the Soviet-era intelligence agency. At that time, it was an elite group that bolstered the totalitarian regime.
While Mr. Putin was posted in Dresden in eastern Germany in the late 1980s, he lamented the corruption and inefficiency of his native country as he experienced Western society. He listened to pop music imported from West Germany, and toasted with champagne upon hearing of the death of Konstantin Chernenko, then chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R.
Currently, an estimated 25 percent of the civilian bureaucrats not in the military or intelligence divisions are former KGB officials, while more are found in higher positions. Mr. Putin’s approval rating, which was only 2 percent when he was named to succeed President Boris Yeltsin in 1999, is now nearly 80 percent as the presidential election approaches tomorrow. Mr. Putin’s reelection is a given.
Political analysts have already predicted that he will seek a constitutional amendment to allow three consecutive presidential terms before 2008, when his second term ends. His regime is considered the most unchallenged since the days of Stalin. Europe is worriedly watching the emergence of a modern day czar.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.