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European Press Review: Putin in Britain

June 24, 2003

Russian President Vladimir Putin's state visit to Britain gave European editorialists on Tuesday the opportunity to examine the Russian leader's impact on his country.

President Vladimir Putin is the first Russian leader to visit Britain since Czar Alexander II in 1874Image: AP

On the occasion of the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin on a state visit to Britain, Tuesday’s European papers commented on the positive impact the Russian leader has had on his country and the negative consequences of last week’s shut down of the last independent Russian television station, TVS.

The London Times

called President Vladimir Putin the "strongman that the Russians need" and the best Russian leader since Czar Alexander II, who was the last government leader to come to Britain on an official state visit in 1874. The paper praised Putin for all he has accomplished in only three years in office, for strengthening freedom and setting his nation on the right course for the future.

The liberal London paper The Independent also acknowledged Putin’s positive impact on Russia and the solid progress he has made in modernizing his country and supporting economic growth. Nevertheless, the paper pointed out that there are still major obstacles on the road to prosperity. As mentioned by Putin in his state of the nation address last month, these obstacles include a shrinking population, an inefficient state apparatus, and a still bloated military. However, the London daily observed that Putin neglected to mention "the disturbing way in which broadcast media is influenced by the state" and his refusal to "deal compassionately with the Chechens’ claims for autonomy." The paper was hopeful that Putin’s visit with British Prime Minister Tony Blair will tug at the Russian leader’s conscience.

The Basler Zeitung in Switzerland commented on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya as well as the shutting down of Russia’s last independent television station, TVS. Just as the Russian and Western public has gotten used to hearing new horror stories from Chechnya on a regular basis, it also accepts reports about the closure of yet another television station simply as a matter of routine, the paper argued. But it warned that just as the conflict in Chechnya threatens to spread to the West – for example, in the case of terrorists trained in Chechnya – the damage to press freedom in Russia will also have negative consequences for the West. In Russia, "unpleasant truths" are increasingly swept under the rug, the paper wrote. It concluded that the longer western politicians remain silent on this issue, the more they are to blame for Russia turning into an authoritarian state.

The Bulgarian paper Dnewnik linked the shutting down of the TVS television station in Russia with next year’s presidential elections. The paper dryly observed that it seems to be an issue of minor importance that without TVS there is no single television station in all of Russia that is independent of the government. The Bulgarian newspaper guessed that according to Russian standards of democracy, this would mean that the next elected president will be the one who is presently in office.