Troubled times: Putin’s summit with Bush was a disappointment
Russian President Vladimir Putin faced frustration on another front, too, after a longanticipated summit with US President George W. Bush yielded no significant breakthroughs. While still cordial, the relationship between the two leaders has clearly cooled since their chummy meetings of a few years ago.
Putin’s popularity ratings fell to new lows, largely over painful social reforms that started to be implemented in January. But despite the decline, most polling agencies report that he enjoys approval ratings in the 60% region—well below the 85% readings of his peak, but reflective, nevertheless, of broad-based support.
The Russian President will be hoping that support does not erode further, as a number of high-profile figures are emerging to challenge him. On the one-year anniversary of his sacking from the position of prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov publicly criticized the Kremlin for turning away from democracy and hinted that he may run for president in 2008. Later, Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov announced that he was retiring from the game in order to challenge what he called the “dictatorship” of President Putin. Kasparov already heads a group called 2008: Free Elections, which is focused on preventing Putin from seeking a third term in office.
In the latest blow to Russia’s imperial ambitions— following the rise of Viktor Yuschenko in Ukraine—the victory of the ruling communist party in Moldova positioned the country to make a decisive turn away from Russia, in favor of closer links with Europe and the United States.