Russia Re-Putined

By: Rachel Marsden

So Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has just been re-presidented for at least another six years, during which we can all watch his newly tucked eyes migrate back to where they used to be. And as surely as a pound dog comes with fleas, this election came with "irregularities" cloaked in "democracy," as the Russians practice it.

For instance, there were 200,000 webcams to monitor the polling stations, but all fed directly into the Kremlin. There were also candidates other than Putin. See if you can name one. If you can't, blame the Russian authorities, who refused to allow anyone competitive on the ballot. President Dmitry Medvedev (soon to be re-prime ministered) is demanding a Ministry of Justice investigation into that. This Russian electoral exercise reminds me of the fun I used to have as a child, putting a doll in each hand and making up the voice for each one as they argued with each other before getting tired of the charade and throwing both into the back of my much favored Tonka dump truck.

The surprising story of this election has been largely overlooked. Gennady Zyuganov, who describes himself as a "Communist," scored as much as 17 percent of the vote.

Wealth distribution without productivity is a recipe for economic collapse. The Russian oligarchs are tasked with investing Kremlin money worldwide, which at least carries some risk. The idea of just handing it out in the absence of any responsibility is dangerous. Nor would it be morally fair for Russians in the business and industrial sectors to work to support those who do nothing. If there is to be a more equitable distribution of Russian gross domestic product, then it ought to be earned.

This might be what Putin was getting at when he recently announced huge investment in the Russian military-industrial sector, with a tripling of military members' pay. At least they'll be working for it, developing their talents for future application. In doing so, they'll enjoy a better standard of living.

This is a strategy that, at its core, acknowledges a very capitalist principle: the association between work and earnings, and the linking of one's future opportunities to effort. A great many Westerners have been able to use the military and its skills-based training as a springboard to a better life.

Putin's biggest domestic challenge is the fact that middle-class Russia still largely votes with its feet. Members of the middle class don't stick around waiting for the next electoral exercise; a lot of them just take off and make a life for themselves elsewhere. The booming Russian energy sector has brought many of them back, along with new foreign talent. But Russia needs a real domestic economy of its own that retains talent.

Moreover, foreign investors are still freaked out by the unpredictability of doing business in Russia, and that will always put Russia at a disadvantage, even vis--vis its fellow BRICS, developing countries Brazil, India, China and South Africa. All the due diligence in the world can't negate a sudden targeted move by the Kremlin against a company or sector. Russian leadership has a tendency to alienate even its close friends, shutting off gas flow in response to a political wind shift. It's this schizophrenia that hurts Russia and its international competitiveness. Maybe once Russian leadership figures this out, it can stop making unsavory friends like those currently running Syria and Iran.

If I were Putin, I'd want to put Syria's Bashar Assad and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the back of a Tonka dump truck headed for Siberia. Come on, Vlad you know you want to. Sometimes the worst part of doing business is dealing with the jerk clients.

P.S.: Love the new face, Vlad.