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A Must-Have Man | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Russian President Vladimir Putin in Red Square, Moscow, Russia with St. Basil’s in the background. Photo: Reuters

In Moscow, you cannot miss visiting the Red Square. It will be a coincidence if you go there in October. This month marks the centennial anniversary of the “October Revolution”, which shook the last century and the world. The orchestrator of that revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is still lying there. If you happen to be there on the seventh of the month, you must remember that the Master of the Kremlin is turning 65 on that day. One can say that a part of history meets at this specific moment.

Lenin’s tomb is only hundreds of meters away from Vladimir Putin’s office on the other side of the square. Lenin certainly believed that Russia would live under the “comrades” party forever. Great victors have this habitude. They imagine that their successes are capable of fighting time and that their ideas cannot be killed or assassinated.

The mighty do not learn that history is addicted to destroying convoys. Perhaps it did not occur to Lenin that those who had grown up under his cloak would one day repress his victories through their indolence and obstinacy.

The clock does not turn back. Putin originally emerged from the Lenin party and from the ingenuity of the KGB. But Putin’s Russia keeps the vestige of the founding father only in his shrine.

The current Russian president has words that reflect the cruelty of the fate of the October Revolution. He sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.” He even stated more expressive words: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.”

Before I go to the Square, I asked a Russian academic, joking: “Who will be the next president following the upcoming March elections?”

“We both know the answer”, he replied, smiling.

He meant that there was no president except The President. When I asked for an explanation, he said: “Russia cannot live without a strong state and a strong leader. It is the size of a continent and consists of 83 federal entities and includes 160 ethnic groups that speak about 100 languages. It includes Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and areas of fluctuating growth. It neighbors 14 countries. Only a strong man can convince this wondrous mixture to co-exist or force them when needed.”

He continues: “At historical turning points, a strong man appears armed with will and vision. He advances, and everyone believes that the country has summoned him to stop its slide towards suicide. This is what happened with Putin.

The Russian Federation was on the brink of disintegration when he entered the Kremlin at the beginning of this century. He managed to speak to the ordinary Russian people and to repress all those who were preparing to leave or blow up the train. He restored the Russian sense of dignity. Russia was re-instated as a major international player. Look at Syria, where the Russian solution is the only proposed solution.”

Russia got tired of the indolence of the Communist Party’s cardinals. Then it feared the mess of Yeltsin era. Moscow has receded and the lost provinces were preparing to fight for the legacy. A man was waiting the day he will enter the Palace and History. At the right moment, he struck.

Perhaps Lenin imagined that he would run the country from his tomb after his death. This did not happen. The master of the palace does not listen to the late man’s advice. He only defended him when many called for removing his body from his symbolic stronghold off the Kremlin and laying him to rest next to his mother, like any ordinary citizen sliding into oblivion.

It is a different Russia, which is ruled by Putin today. In the Red Square, I remembered that Asharq al-Awsat has sent me to this land in 1992, one year after the fall of the Soviet Union. I went to Arbat Pedestrian Street. Suddenly I heard a Russian man shouting loudly. I asked my colleague, Sami Amara, what he was saying. He replied: “He says that the uniform of the colonel is on sale for $25 with its decorations. I approached a pile of uniforms of the Red Army officers for sale in a humiliating sight for that old army and its majestic country.”

When I returned to London, I wrote about the sick Russia under Boris Yeltsin, the colonel uniform on sale for $25, and Lenin, who is left to tourists.

Vladimir Putin was close to the Berlin Wall when it collapsed. He saw scenes of humiliation in the streets of Russia. He made his decision and made his way. He made his story and changed the fate of his country.

At first sight, Russia seemed far away, groaning under the snow and longing for its Soviet clothes. Putin launched his war. He reformed the Red Army’s spirit, budget and arsenal. He domesticated the governors of the provinces and barons, who came to the country with their wealth from Soviet rubble. He sought a truce with the West until he gathered his strength. He responded to NATO’s drawing near his country’s borders and began settling his scores. He took advantage of Barack Obama’s hesitation and struck. He intervened militarily in Syria and rescued the regime “whose fall was likely within two months.” And here is the Russian solution ahead of everything else.

The Syria crisis was his chance to respond to what he considered to be Western “treason” in Libya… his opportunity to avenge the colorful revolutions and human rights organizations… his golden opportunity to strike Islamists away from Russian soil… and his chance to remind that Russia is a mandatory and crucial partner.

There is a weakness that the tsar failed to conceal. The decline in oil prices revealed that his era did not achieve the desired economic progress. His country’s economy is still lingering far behind European economies. The US and European sanctions have doubled the sufferings. His hopes for an opportunity to forge a deal with the arrival of Donald Trump have evaporated. This is why the regime today is looking for partners and investors.

At the hotel, I asked the young man who brought the coffee for his favorite candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. “It is Putin because he is strong; whether you like it or not, he is a must-have man. He gives you a feeling of reassurance. We do not want chaos back.”

It is not simple that the exercise of power does not drain the balance of the president-leader. It is not simple that the majority feels that he is a guarantee… that he was able to sail in the midst of storms… It is not simple that the academic, businessman and hotel worker are convinced that a man who changed the fate of his country is a must-have man. While destiny makes most of men, some men make their own destinies.