[Outlook]Economic power is real powerIt is not easy for a man in his fifties to take off his shirt in public. It is even more difficult for the president of a country. President Vladimir Putin of Russia did so on Aug. 13. The photos of him fishing in the headwaters of the Yenisey River with his shirt off were released. They were not taken by paparazzi. The office of public information at the Kremlin took the photos and spread them around the world through The Associated Press and the Agence France-Presse.
Putin seems fit in the photos. He is a black belt both in judo and the Russian martial art sambo. He is a very good skier and he is known to swim one kilometer every day. The photos of him fishing also reminded Koreans of Pyeongchang’s unsuccessful bid for the Winter Olympic Games.
Putin invited Albert II, the prince of Monaco, to a Russian imperial palace. Albert II is a member of the International Olympic Committee and helped Sochi’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. After Sochi won the bid, the AFP estimated that Russian spent around 60 million euro ($80 million) on the campaign. Putin must have known the news and rumors about this, since he used to be the head of an intelligence agency. But it seemed that he did not care about them at all.
The president, who is apparently in good shape, constantly boasts about strength. On Aug. 8, Russian bombers flew close to Guam where a U.S. military base is, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. On this day, the Russian Air Force sent 30 fighters over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
The previous day the Russian Navy test launched a ballistic missile from a nuclear submarine in the Pacific Ocean. The sea-based missile, which can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, flew 8,300 kilometers and hit the target. The day before the test, Russia deployed an air defense battalion equipped with the S-400 systems around Moscow. The S-400 missile can intercept both a fighter and a ballistic missile.
In late July, Russia successfully test-fired a Bulava missile, which has a range of 100,000 kilometers. The series of military acts is a warning to the George W. Bush administration not to push the establishment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
Early this month, a Russian research team sent two submarines into the deep of the Arctic Ocean and planted a Russian national flag made of titanium. This was a political act to claim the seabed, which has a depth of 4,300 meters, as Russia’s territory.
Late last month, according to a survey conducted at the request of the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Putin was ranked first for his ability to lead Russia, with 9.87 points out of 10, among 100 Russian politicians. In a poll conducted shortly after the successful bid for the Winter Olympic Games, his approval rating was 83 percent.
Even though only eight months remain before his term ends, there are few signs that show his status is that of a lame duck.
In his annual state address on May 10 last year, Putin said Russia must be prepared to take a stand against pressure from the outside and claimed that it was too early to talk about ending the race for military spending.
Putin’s power comes from natural gas and oil. Because the country enjoys oil money, the Russian economy was restored quickly. Putin is on good terms with leaders of other countries that Washington shuns, such as Iran.
President Bush is aware of President Putin. On his way to Guatemala to support the country’s bid for the Winter Olympic Games, Putin took some time to meet President Bush.
Putin was on his own but Bush brought First Lady Laura Bush and his father, former President George. H. W. Bush.
The meeting took place at the Bush’s residence in Maine. No other foreign leaders have been invited there before. President Bush hosted the Russian president with honor and courtesy, but it is reported that Putin said all he wanted to say.
Power is a major factor on the global stage. It comes from having a good economy. People with loud voices do not necessarily win on the global stage. That is why everybody talks about economics.
When an economy is weak, claims by people living in the country that it is strong are not persuasive. We need to look back on whether President Roh Moo-hyun and we, all Koreans, have behaved that way over the last five years.
*The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shim Sang-bok