Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18-year rule may be overtaken by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was a “huge plus” for the country, said Putin’s spokesman.
“In Moscow you often hear the words, ‘Why is he coming back?’” Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with the private Dozhd television channel in Moscow late yesterday. “A lot of people are talking about the Brezhnevization of Putin. But these are people who don’t know anything about Brezhnev.”
Putin, 58, said Sept. 24 he’ll seek to return to the presidency in March elections, pushing aside his protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, who replaced him in the Kremlin for four years because of a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms. Two more six-year terms would give Putin 24 years at the helm, making him the longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.
Brezhnev led the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982, a period later characterized as an era of stagnation that paved the way for the country’s collapse in 1991.
Russian bloggers have posted online mock-up photos of Putin’s face superimposed on a Brezhnev portrait since the announcement of his return to the Kremlin.
“Brezhnev is not a minus sign,” Peskov said. He was a “huge plus for our country. He laid the foundations for the economy and agriculture.”
Putin’s unpopularity among educated Muscovites isn’t shared by the population outside the capital, Peskov said. “There they have to deal with real problems,” he said. “We all want the country to be modern and free, but you have to work for that, it won’t happen in five years.”
Putin’s first two terms as president were marked by efforts to centralize power and increase state ownership of the country’s biggest companies. Buffeted by a booming global economy, Russia’s economic growth averaged 7 percent a year during Putin’s 2000-2008 tenure.
Concern over the global slowdown and Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis has roiled markets in Russia, which saw its economy contract 7.8 percent in 2009, its worst recession on record. The country is vulnerable to swings in oil prices and will have to cut spending, including pensions, to bring its budget into line and reduce its dependency on commodity exports, the International Monetary Fund said Sept. 21.
The world’s largest energy exporter saw the price of its main export, Urals crude oil, fall about 10 percent in the past two weeks to below $100 a barrel. Russia needs oil to average $109 a barrel this year and $112 in 2012 to balance its budget, according to current government forecasts.
Brezhnev, who benefited from a sharp rise in oil prices after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, only presided over stagnation in the final years of his rule, said Peskov.
“Let’s not confuse things with the late Brezhnev era,” said Peskov. “Let’s not start thinking things are bad, the ‘tandem’ has shown its effectiveness for our country,” he said, referring to the power-sharing arrangement between Putin and Medvedev.