So the illustrious Time Magazine has named Vladimir Putin its Person of the Year, adding him to a list of winners that includes a few people he admires (his role model, Yuri Andropov, shared the title with Ronald Reagan in 1983), a few people Putin has never quite seen eye-to-eye with (George W. Bush and Lech Walesa, to name a couple) and, well, me.
Does he deserve the prize? As Time notes in its explanation, the honour is not a popularity contest, nor an endorsement. Here's the offered explanation:
At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. It is ultimately about leadership — bold, earth-changing leadership. Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech. He stands, above all, for stability — stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years. Whether he becomes more like the man for whom his grandfather prepared blinis (Stalin) — who himself was twice TIME's Person of the Year — or like Peter the Great, the historical figure he most admires; whether he proves to be a reformer or an autocrat who takes Russia back to an era of repression — this we will know only over the next decade. At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power.
Putting judgements aside, as Time has, it's hard to argue that Putin hasn't transformed Russia in a very short period of time. Eight years ago, he inherited a nearly failed state and now Russia, while it still has dangerous internal problems, is a force to be reckoned with on the international stage again.
A test of Putin and the new Russia looms next in Kosovo, where Serbs are looking to Putin as the only person willing to stand up for them as the West throws its weight behind the Kosovar Albanian leadership as it moves towards declaring full independence. More on that later...