The future that young Russians want
The Putin generation is often worldly, optimistic, and enthusiastic about democracy – as they define it.
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Shchitov loves Putin's sharp wit and admires the way he has helped Russia to shed its "younger brother" status among nations – singling out Putin's achievement of landing the 2014 Olympic Games. "It proves," he says, "that the development of Russia has reached the level of an equal partner of European states or the US."Skip to next paragraph
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He espouses the administration's ideology of "sovereign democracy," a term that supporters say describes a form of democracy uniquely suited to Russia's needs, implemented free from interference.
Calling it Putin's answer to criticism from President George Bush about an authoritarian drift in Russia, Shchitov explains, "We don't want to be an Iraq or Afghanistan"– a reference to what he sees as unsuccessful bids to impose democracy.
He is well aware of Western criticism that Putin stifles civil society. But drawing on historical figures from Aristotle to Winston Churchill, he calmly addresses such criticism.
"Russia is portrayed as a country where all democratic values are suppressed, where there's no freedom of expression, no free media, no free elections," says Shchitov, who is fluent in French and English. "Is [the US Patriot Act] the collapse of democracy in America? No, it's just what is necessary for the time. It's the same for Russia."
His rationale for supporting Putin
Back at home, he relaxes in a armchair while his Egyptian cat, Cleopatra, lounges nearby on an Oriental rug. But politics is never far from his mind. His father, who was on the forefront of Russia's foray into international business in the 1990s, chimes in.
"When Putin became president ... there were several people who had lots of money, who could really influence the political course of our country, but the government had no mechanisms to control the political process," says Vladimir Shchitov, taking a break from watching a tennis match on TV. "Step by step, Vladimir Putin took control of the situation."
One step was eliminating the direct election of regional governors, instead nominating candidates for local parliaments' approval.
"Under Yeltsin, when heads of regions [came to power] by direct vote, they … were mostly supported by local criminals. Now Putin decided to change this situation," explains Kirill Shchitov. "It works the same way in France – and no one says that France is not democratic," he argues.
But Ms. Lipman at Carnegie says that Putin's nominations amount to direct control. Local legislatures, she says, "are accountable to local party bosses, who are accountable to party bosses at the federal level, and those receive instructions from the Kremlin." Also, nearly all of them are from Putin's United Russia party.
Drawn to the party in 2003 as a political science major, Shchitov extols the importance of having a political opposition to counteract the ruling party's shortcomings, but says it was "stupid" to have 35 parties competing for the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) in 2003.