Putin election leaves Swiss press cold

Putin denounced after his election attempts to destroy Russia's statehood and usurp power Reuters

Vladimir Putin will once again be Russia’s leader after winning a majority of votes in the presidential election. Swiss media believe the result is not good news.

This content was published on March 5, 2012 minutes
Scott Capper,

Putin will be returning to head the state for what could be another 12 years, after a first stint between 2000 and 2008, and editorialists believe his leadership style will be a recipe for economic failure.

Two exit polls on Sunday showed Putin with 58-59 per cent of the vote, and incomplete results showed him winning more than 64 per cent. Full results are expected later on Monday.

His nearest rival, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, had about 17 per cent of votes, and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, former parliamentary speaker Sergei Mironov and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov were all below ten per cent.

But vote monitors from the opposition and bloggers posted allegations of election rigging across the country of 143 million. Golos, an independent monitoring group, said it had registered at least 3,500 reports of violations nationwide.

No surprise

For the Swiss media, the result was never in doubt, and the first-round victory was anything but a surprise.

“Putin’s return to the presidency is a non-event,” said the editorialist in Fribourg’s La Liberté, a sentiment echoed by most of his colleagues.

However, the fact that Putin did not romp home by a huge margin is an indication that change is underway in Russia, according to the Basler Zeitung.

“It is possible that he [Putin] is convinced that he has won the battle for Russia’s soul and will legitimately rule the country for the next six years,” it wrote. “But that doesn’t change the fact that Putin has lost half of Russia. It might only be a small half, but it is growing… and it is the more active half. Russia has begun to move, without Putin.”

That change has been partially brought about by a lack of economic success under  Putin’s stewardship as president and prime minister.

For Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger, “the authoritarian state has not brought about the economic success that was supposed to legitimise its existence. During the global financial crisis, Putin’s system has proven itself to be ramshackle… with the country’s gross domestic product falling nine per cent in 2009 alone.”


For the paper’s editorialist, it is this fatal mixture of loss of democracy and a failing economy that has led to unrest among Russia’s growing middle class, with any trust in Putin vanishing.

“In any other democratic state, a government with such catastrophic economic results would have been voted out of office,” it added. “Putin is back though with his old recipes. Protests will only increase and the stability Putin hoped for will stay out of reach.”

For the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the new Russian president’s ambition is to make Russia a superpower once again, but paradoxically, he is one of the biggest obstacles to its success, meaning the West has little to fear from Russia.

“Effective foreign and military policies rely today on a strong economy,” it pointed out. “Putin stalled reforms, preferring to maintain control through his minions. The economy did grow, but without the shackles imposed by Putin, it would have done better.”

“His candidacy split the land, but it also hinders the economy. Because of this, Russia will remain a difficult partner on the international scene, but it will not have the weight it needs to make its presence felt for years.”

However La Liberté warned the rest of the world should pay more attention.

“If Putin can remodel the Russian state any way he wants, it’s also because of the West’s lack of interest,” it warned.

“And even if he is a difficult customer, Putin cannot be ignored on vital questions such as Europe’s energy supply, the Syrian crisis or curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Keeping him happy is a requirement in the international arena.”

Swiss-Russian ties

Regular contacts between Russia and Switzerland go back to the 18th century. In the 19th century Russia was one of the great powers which guaranteed Swiss neutrality.

In the 19th and early 20th century Switzerland attracted Russian artists, students and dissidents, including Lenin, who spent several years in exile in Swiss cities.

Following the Russian revolution of 1917, Switzerland broke off diplomatic relations the next year, and they were only restored in 1946.

Between the late 1990s and 2007 relations were strained by a number of issues including the 2002 Überlingen air crash in Swiss-controlled airspace which killed 71 people, mostly Russian children.

The arrest of former Russian nuclear energy minister Yevgeny Adamov in Bern in 2005 and a court decision to extradite him to the United States further soured relations. But Adamov was eventually extradited to Russia.

Russia also took a dim view of charges brought by Swiss prosecutors against Viktor Vekselberg for alleged stock market abuses in 2008. The Russian billionaire was acquitted last year.

Diplomatic relations have warmed up recently, with Switzerland acting as mediator between Russia and Georgia ever since the brief war between the two countries in 2008.

Switzerland also helped Russia’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organisation, to which it was admitted in December.

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