Posted by: Tony Carson | 3 September, 2007

Will Putin be known as Vladimir the Great?

Vladimir Putin has made an enormous, if controversial, contribution to modernizing Russia. His impact may be felt for generations to come. But does he deserve ‘the Great’ moniker?

Jay Winik thinks so in his Washington Post article. But curiously, Winik compares Putin’s accomplishments to Catherine’s when a more obvious comparison would be to Peter’s.

Peter the Great, it will be remembered, took a largely Asiatic country and through a broad and deep series of reforms pulled his country and its ruling nobility kicking and screaming into the 18th century. He did this by applying European solutions to the uniquely primitive problems of a God-terrorized country.

Where the German-born Catherine imported European folk ways and mores to her adopted country, Peter fiercely demanded European management systems: he got rid of the aristocracies’ free-ride and put them to work for the state; he reorganized his pitifully inept military along Europeans lines; he applied innovative technologies to solve contemporary problems (ie. on the seas); he emasculated the domineering church and he put his people to work using European methods.

Most importantly, Peter opened Russia to the the West by forcing his people to embrace western values. That sounds a lot more Putin-esque than Catherine’s embrace of European arts and letters and her lust for territorial expansion.

But will Putin merit ‘the Great?’

He is on the right trajectory for it but he may run out of time … or not.

Great titles are ordained by great accomplishments. The bold move of breaking the law to retain the Russian crown in the up-coming elections may be Putin’s Peter moment: if he doesn’t run again (as he legally can’t) he will go down in history as a competent leader who lucked out with barrels of oil money to westernize (commercialize) a backward country; if he breaks the law and runs again he is well position to make a remarkable impact by forcing his country to re-join the expanding ranks of the superpowers.

Vladimir the Great? He is still in the running.


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