Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Responsibility Gets Lost in Transmissions

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

In his annual call-in show, President Vladimir Putin again stood front and center as a leader, the person who ultimately answers for what is happening in the country. Unless, of course, something is not going well -- in which case it is either someone else's fault or beyond anyone's control.

That, at least, was the message that Putin delivered Wednesday.

To be fair, claiming credit for successes and ducking blame for failures is common practice for politicians everywhere. But in Russia, the balance of power and decision-making authority is heavily tilted in favor of the president, and the state controls the most effective resources for publicizing or criticizing the results of his decisions -- the major television channels.

So when potentially unpopular policy decisions are made or in times of crisis, Putin essentially disappears and, in his place, we get a parade of officials who bear the brunt of the questioning and, often, the blame.

When it is time to raise pensions, however, you can bet that the president will be making the announcement.

On Wednesday, Putin's reflex response was to duck when it came to uncomfortable questions such as race-related violence in Kondapoga, a coarse joke he was overheard making to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about sexual assault accusations against Israeli President Moshe Katsav, or the crackdown on Georgians and Georgian business interests.

The person to blame for much of what happened in Kondapoga was Sergei Katanandov, the governor of the region where the town is located. Putin complained that he had tried and failed to get hold of Katanandov during the crisis in September.

With regard to the joke, Putin said the press was at fault for reporting last week's comment in the first place. "They were sent to take a peek, not to eavesdrop," he said.

The crackdown on Georgians is Tbilisi's fault, the result of a Georgian military buildup near two breakaway regions in the country, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he said.

Putin was right to say, as he did at one point in the broadcast, that the fate of the country doesn't depend on just one person -- "Even if that person is me."

But at the same time, when that one person has such a firm grip on the reins of power, he must accept more responsibility for what happens in his country.