Putin at No. 1: Russian media crows, and complains, about Forbes ranking

Russian media cheered Forbes' decision to name Vladimir Putin the world's most powerful person in 2013. But they also took umbrage at how he was described by the magazine.

Michael Klimentyev/Kremlin/RIA Novosti/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic Wednesday in the Kremlin. Mr. Putin was named the world's most powerful man in 2013 by Forbes magazine.

Vladimir Putin is the world's most powerful person in 2013, according to Forbes magazine, which has taken it upon itself to compile a controversial "most powerful" list every year since 2009.

This year it has 72 names of people who "matter the most," including 17 heads of state, 27 business kingpins, assorted politicians and bureaucrats, one drug trafficker, one pope and – with a bit of overlap – 28 billionaires.

In a breezy explanation of its methodology, the magazine says that top editors consider the extent of a candidate's power over people, financial resources, influence in multiple spheres, and whether the person's authority is effectively wielded.

For three of first four years of the list's existence US President Barack Obama was the anointed No. 1. And rightly so. By almost any calculus, whether GDP, diplomatic heft, or military might, the leader of the United States ought to be pretty much guaranteed that slot every single time. But, perhaps just to mix it up, the editors of Forbes gave the top honor to Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2010.

Russians are already clinking their tea glasses in celebration, seeing in this fairly prominent global ranking a validation not only of Russia's inexorable rise on the world stage, but also of US decline.

The Kremlin-funded English-language TV network, RT, managed to make all those points while still decrying the lamentable double-standards employed by Forbes editors.

"Apparently, Putin’s first place on Forbes couldn’t appear without ready-made clichés in the description and accompanying articles, with terms like 'autocratic leader,' 'ex-KGB strongman,' and 'dictator' littered everywhere. His counterpart Obama, on the other hand, has been depicted as 'the handcuffed head of the most dominant country,' but still the 'leader of the free world,'" RT complained.

Citing its reasons for promoting Mr. Putin to the top of the list this year, while Mr. Obama fell back to second place, Forbes said that "Putin has solidified his control over Russia and anyone watching the chess match over Syria has a clear idea of the shift in the power towards Putin on the global stage. The ex-KGB strongman – who controls a nuclear-tipped army, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves – is allowed to serve another six-year term, which could keep him in office until 2024."

The most important factor was Syria, where a Russian proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control appears to have shifted the focus from military strikes to diplomacy after Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad was accused of using poison gas against civilians.

In September, Putin penned an influential commentary in the New York Times, appealing to Americans to see the logic of Russia's position on Syria and forgo their own misguided tendency to see the US as "exceptional." That brought a testy cold war-style response from US Senator John McCain, who published his anti-Putin polemic in one of the modern successors to the former Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda.

Putin's ability to stand up to the US over the issue of fugitive ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, to whom Russia granted a year's refuge despite stiff US objections last August, was another factor in Putin's rise to the top, the magazine said.

"Even if this rating is subjective, it's another sign that Russia's prestige is rising," says Olga Kryshtanovskaya, one of Russia's top political sociologists.

"I don't think this changes anything inside Russia. People who hated Putin will go on doing so, those who are loyal to him will be proud of this [new sign of recognition]. But it's an acknowledgement of the fact that, thanks to Russia, bloodshed in Syria was prevented," she says. "This is a very important fact."

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