What do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck have in common? They are celebrities, and nothing more! Everybody knows them, but no one is too sure what exactly any of them is doing. Karl Rove’s article in The Wall Street Journal “Obama’s No Good, Very Bad Week” nails all the necessary points in regards to the American president. Obama talks, blames, and smiles in his white unbuttoned shirt. That, apparently, is not enough to curb the worst financial crisis in world’s modern history.
Ben Affleck? He is a celebrity and a handsome man. But no one can really remember his most recent hit movie. To help out Russia Blog readers who are his fans — the movie is called The Company Men, and features another now-irrelevant star, Kevin Costner. With a production budget of $15 million, the movie grossed only $4.9 million worldwide. An “ouch” moment for the film’s investors — a feeling similar to that which the Chinese government is experiencing in relationship to Obama’s White House economic program.
However, in our weekend stardom marathon, Vladimir Putin takes first place with his new action movies of diving underwater and retrieving ancient Greek artifacts. By a pure coincidence, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored archeological expedition in Fanagoria—a Russian town that is the location of an ancient Greek city. The Russian government under back-then President Putin didn’t want to do anything with the expedition, leaving the sponsorship to Russian private businessmen, some of whom fell out of Putin’s favor… But that’s a different story. Today, when Putin is prime minister, the government donates about 50 rubles (one dollar and eighty cents) per day to the income of each of the scientists and archeologists working on the site. That is, not much. However, uncomfortable facts and unwritten rules of ethics do not prevent the prime minister from going on a lavish vacation to the site he never supported. Meanwhile, Russia’s ruble—backed by piles of gold, diamonds, gas, oil, and zero innovation—is slipping alongside the “evil” dollar (the ruble has lost 10% of its value next to the struggling dollar in the past several weeks).
Putin doesn’t have Ben Affleck’s Hollywood resources behind him, but he does have plenty of government news channels’ cameras rolling as he dives—dressed in an “Aqua Lune Bali” Western wetsuit and shuttled around by American inflatable boats with Mercury engines, and breathing through Australian “Oceanic” diving gear. The show is “Russian” ony because of Putin’s involvement, and to make the movie “certified Russian,” Putin would need to dive literally naked. (Putin’s Russia produces only natural resources—on par with Venezuela and Zimbabwe—and cars without airbags and air conditioners. Innovation stops there.) My American friends are joking whether the guy who handed Putin the vases during the dive had to stay underwater the whole time until the cameras were turned off, or if he crawled on the seafloor and boarded another boat, so Putin could dive out with the discovered artifacts.
Jokes aside, Russians are disgusted to the point of nausea. Website forums’ commentators are wondering whether Putin plans on working from the office at least once a year, while others demand a similar vacation paid for themselves with taxpayers’ money. Russia’s most-read online publication Gazeta.ru features a poem “Premier’s Boredom” that became the most-read piece over the weekend. The poem explores Putin’s extravagant hobbies and boredom towards the state of Russian economic and political events.
Someone said long ago that the best leader is the one whom the nation doesn’t notice. Would Russia and America be so blessed one day to have a leader like that? The endless line-up of celebrities at the steering wheels does very little for the planet’s wellbeing.
Yuri Mamchur is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow with the Discovery Institute in Seattle and creator of Russia Blog, www.russiablog.org.