A Collapsing World Order and the Rise of “Strong” Leaders

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By Our Bureau Chief,  Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Edited by Adam Rizvi, USA, TIO: I am not a woman, so I don’t have bad days Vladimir Putin
It came as no surprise when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was one of the first to call
and wish the Russian president Vladimir Putin, on the success of the referendum, for
constitutional amendments, which Putin powered through, gifting himself two more terms, after
his current reign ends in 2024. Modi’s own contempt for the constitutional framework in India
to is becoming more and more evident, and his and his party men’s intention of keeping the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power for the next 50 years is hardly a secret.

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What was however surprising was the defense ministry clearing a proposal to acquire 33 new
combat jets, including 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKIs, 21 MiG-29s, and upgrade the existing 59 MiG-29s
at a total cost of Rs 18,148 crore. This was merely mentioned as a matter of fact in the Indian
media, without discussing the implications of such a large expense, at a time when the Indian
economy is at its worst. Russia at the moment accounts for more than 60% of the military
hardware used by the Indian armed forces.

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Putin, 67, has already been ruling Russia with an iron fist for over two decades now and will be
84, when his term ends in 2036. The bitter pill was coated in 200 other constitutional
amendments aimed at his traditional voters, the conservatives, including banning same-sex
marriages.
In recent times, the Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, who was on the second and final term as
president too made sweeping changes to China’s constitution and removed the two-term limit,
opening the door for him to rule as long as he wants.

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China with its one-party system, is effectively a closed state, with nothing leaking out about the state of affairs there. A
commonality which it shares with Putin’s Russia, which is no less closed, with the media totally
subverted and its opposition severely dealt with either death or imprisonment.
This is not the first time, when constitutional amendments have been made, to allow Putin to
continue with his reign of terror, which is getting worse with every term.
In Russia, the president has two terms only like in China and the USA, which was extended to six
years, from the earlier four years in 2012.

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In 2008, after completing his two four year terms,
Putin switched positions with prime minister Dmitry Medvedev becoming the president, while
Putin became the prime minister, effectively taking the power with him to the PM’s office. This
was compared to castling, an important chess move, a “masterstroke” for Putin supporters.
Medvedev then amended the constitution to make it easy for Putin to come back in 2012 and
enjoy a six-year term, which ended in 2018. After which he won again to remain in power till 2024.

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Clearly that was not enough, and Putin instead of going through another castling in 2024,
simply decided to get rid of the annoying requirement, which needed him to step down. Though
the amendments were cleared by the Russian parliament in January itself, Putin still took it to the
people for final approval, to win back the support, after his ratings took a massive dip, over his
handling of the COVID crisis. And he supposedly got it with 75% of the voter population
“approving” it.

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One of his strongest opponents of Putin, since 2011, Alexei Navalny, however, has accused the
government of rigging the votes, And just like in India, the Central Election Commission
Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova rejected the claims, claiming the results of the vote are authentic
and its legitimacy is indisputable. Putin’s ruling since 1999 has reduced the Republic of Russia into an authoritarian and militaristic
society and very much against the western world. When the USSR disintegrated into 15
countries, including the Russian Federation, Putin was 40 years old and was part of KGB, the
notorious Soviet security agency.

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The Russian economy was in a freefall when the communist regime
ended and 45,000 companies run by the communists fell into the hands of a few wealthy men,
called Oligarchs. Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin was quite unpopular. Putin, about whom
very little was known arrived out of nowhere to become the mayor of St Petersburg in 1991.
Putin used the support of the oligarchs, former KGB officers, his friends, and even crime bosses
to rise up, since then.

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In 1999, Yeltsin appointed Putin as the prime minister, who by then projected himself as a fierce
nationalist. Yeltsin was perceived as too West leaning. Putin thought NATO was exercising
pressure on Russia. In 1999, there were attacks on Russia, causing several deaths, including
some in Moscow for which Putin had blamed separatists from Chechneya and in true nationalist
fervor swore to avenge. His popularity rose, and he made several appearances on television.
Russians rallied around him and his approval ratings as the new PM jumped from 2% before
bombings to 45% after bombings.

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There were rumors that Moscow killings were deliberately triggered to make Putin look good, but investigations

were quashed. Quite similar to the way Narendra Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat. Russia then attacked Chechneya to seize it,
a battle that led to 80,000 deaths, causing international outrage.

In December 1999, Yeltsin suddenly resigned and Putin became the president. Since then, he has
been on an upward swing. Corruption rules and oligarchs who support Putin survive, rest sent to
jail. Putin has to only control the handful of Oligarchs to control Russia.

In 2012 Putin came back with a majority to become president again. Chaos reigned, and Putin’s
second stint was marked by extreme media control. He also set off the media on human rights,
civil liberties, and gay rights activists, to silence them.

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Russia was one of the first countries to create a cyber army to trigger havoc in the west. He was
accused of sabotaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign and it is largely believed that Russian hackers
helped in the rise of right-wing in Europe. His aggressive policies weaken neighbors but help
rally Russians around him. As a result of US sanctions, Russian rouble is at a big-time low, and
at 71 for a dollar, only marginally better than the Indian rupee at 74.

Evidence of the involvement of three Russian companies and 13 Russian nationals, in US
elections, keeps suspicious of Russian involvement in US elections alive. Also because Putin
hopes to see Trump back in power, as he believes Trump will ease up sanctions, imposed by the
western world of Russia, for its unnecessarily aggressive stance against its neighbors, like
Georgia, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan. What bothers Trump’s critics is his insistence
that Putin is a “strong leader” whether one may like his politics or not. For many Americans, it is
also a matter of concern that Russian investors have invested in Trump hotels and he has sold
condos to them. When Putin came to power, the western world wanted Russia to be more
integrated with them. But what Russia did was to infiltrate UK politics, a study for which was

done last year, but never published. By no indication does Trump seem to be averse to any help
from Putin to stay in power either.

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Vladimir Putin has amassed immense wealth as was exposed during the Panama papers leak in
2016, with money invested in shell companies and offshore tax, havens.The extreme corruption
in his regime, by the oligarchs and himself, necessitates that he stay in power as long as it takes,
for him to be able to enjoy the wealth and the power. He is known to pressure people, buying up
loyalty, tactics learned straight out of a KGB textbook.

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Putin has over the years created a system, where people really have no choice. People can vote
whoever, the result is always the same. Putin has managed to kill all opposition and the general
feeling is that Russians have surrendered a bit of freedom for stability, since the disintegration of
USSR. Putin rules by fear and opponents and journalists often end up dead.

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Alexei Navalny, a social media star and a hero to millions of millennials in Russia, for making
anti-corruption his platform to attack Putin, has been arrested several times and false charges
used on cue, to prevent him from fighting elections. Navalny has 3.15 million subscribers on You
Tube and has more than 2.1 million followers on Twitter. Since his content is mostly in Russian,
most of his supporters are from Russia, which again raises huge doubts about Putin’s popularity.
He has used his blog, YouTube and Twitter handle to publish videos and documents about
corruption by Russian state officials, to organize political demonstrations, and to promote his
campaigns for office.

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The Russian media has helped craft an image of Putin as a very “strong” leader, with images and
videos “leaked”, every time his rating dips. Russians have been treated to his shirtless bare torso
on horseback, him in the gym, slamming his opponents during martial arts practice sessions
among others. This is in between the economic crisis in Russia, caused by the sanctions and the

large scale corruption. He fears people’s protests on the streets against him the most and comes
down heavily on them. Again similarities with his Indian and Chinese counterparts are too
uncanny.

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For a “strong” leader, his views are very regressive and believe that women should do all the
work in the house, and not be praised! His views on gay rights are equally contemptuous, quite
like the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak (RSS) back home. Very little is known of his family, except
that he has two grown-up daughters and that he divorced his wife of 30 years in 2013, which was
“revealed” to a local journalist in ballet theatre, after a performance. Since then she has moved
on with a much younger man, while the Russian tabloid which revealed that he was with a
former gymnast was closed down immediately.

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It has been well demonstrated in history that the “strongmen” often harbor deep insecurity and
end up buying up more and more weapons, supposedly to safeguard the countries, they now have
an iron holdover. And with every passing year, the weapons get more and more destructive, with
no lines drawn for nuclear weapons either. Russia’s economy particularly hinges on not just
creating the most sophisticated defense equipment for itself but also selling it to China, Pakistan,

and India. With tensions at the border for India, with the Chinese and the Pakistanis, it certainly
is boom time for Russia, as it sells arms to all three countries.

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Just as Modi never fails to remind that India is a country of 1.36 billion people, and they all
support him, Putin constantly reminds everyone for the effect that Russia is a country of 146 million
and they are with him, Both the countries expected to change under these two leaders but as their
wealth and power increased, their countries economies collapsed, leading to a huge dip in the
personal wealth and well being of citizens.

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Strong men and their muscular policies whether it is in India, Russia, China or USA, is leading to
a lot of disturbance in the world order and therefore any attempts to bypass democracy to seize
power is a risk not just to their own country but to the rest of the world as well.

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Curated by Alizah Rizvi, Compile by Yusra Kidwai

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar is the regional Bureau Chief of the USA based News Portal, "www.TheIndiaObserver.Com". She has been a fearless journalist for over two decades and has worked in several publications in Mumbai, India. She has worked for The Pioneer, The Daily, Afternoon Despatch, and Courier, Free Press Group, Life Positive, freelanced for The Federal, The Week, Midday, Deccan Herald, Herald-Citizen (USA), South Asian Times (USA). She is a broadcaster, commentator, interviewer besides being an investigative journalist. She has covered several beats, including politics, civic affairs, law, public health, crime, sports, environment. She has also been an assistant producer for a documentary film commissioned by PBS, on Methamphetamine addiction in Tennessee, called Crank: Darkness on the edge of town. She has also been a guest faculty teaching journalism at the School of Broadcasting, Mumbai.

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