Vladimir Putin meets Alexander Lukashenko in September
Taylor Swift has been named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year after being shortlisted with a group of completely different characters, which included Chinese President Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Barbie and the Hollywood actors and writers on strike.
Swift took the world by storm this year, with her Eras Tour breaking box office records and her re-recording of her decade-old album 1989 becoming the biggest-seller of 2023.
The award, which started in 1927, features a person, group, idea, or object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year”.
For better or for worse, in 2007, Putin was given the award for his role in transforming Russia after its turbulent fallout from the Soviet Union — though much of the praise given to him and his subsequent victory interview hasn’t aged well.
READ MORE Taylor Swift named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2023
Naming him as its Person of the Year, TIME Magazine said he had returned his country from chaos to “the table of world power” though at a cost to democratic principles.
The magazine’s managing editor at the time, Richard Sengel, said: “He’s not a good guy, but he’s done extraordinary things. He’s a new tsar of Russia and he’s dangerous in the sense that he doesn’t care about civil liberties; he doesn’t care about free speech; he cares about stability. But stability is what Russia needed and that’s why Russians adore him.”
Things are different today, though similar in spirit. Last year, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, something which continues today and has become Europe’s biggest conflict since World War 2.
Much of the world has galvanised against Russia in a bid to push it into withdrawing from its neighbour, placing heavy sanctions on the country and freezing its assets.
It is thought that Russian GDP dropped by 2.1 percent in 2022, and will drop by a further 2.5 percent this year — though through loopholes and trade deals with other countries like China and India, Putin has managed to fend off what many in the West predicted would be Russia’s total collapse.
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Putin’s rule has been described as authoritarian, yet in his Person of the Year victory interview, the former KGB agent championed democracy and expressed his desire to push Russia onto its path.
Asked whether he believed it was a mistake to put glasnost before perestroika, he said: “Well, I don’t believe that democratisation, if you mean by glasnost democratisation, should be postponed.
“It is equally clear that market transition could be postponed to a later date. Well, everything in its good time, and what happened happened.”
Then, when asked about his plans for Russia’s interaction with the former Soviet republics — of which Ukraine is one — he said: “I believe that we should build our relations with the former Soviet republics on the basis of absolute equality.
“Through this approach, we can embark on a process of economic integration, realising our natural competitive edge in the global economy. We have a common energy system. Electricity. We have a common transportation system.
“Like in the European Union, we do not have to invent the rules of use of national languages. We have a lingua franca in the former Soviet Union, Russian. We have many other things that bring us together. Many economies, many industries are not able to sustain themselves without relying on countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics. I believe that we must build our relations based on those principles.”
At the time, Putin clinched the award over former US Vice President Al Gore, who was Time’s second choice, followed by British author J K Rowling, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao and the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.
Dmitry Peskov, back then the Kremlin’s deputy spokesman and today its chief press secretary, said TIME’s choice was an acknowledgement of Putin’s role in helping Russia to regain its national pride.
He said Putin was “really satisfied” with the award, and that Russia had re-emerged “as a constructive and reliable partner in shaping international relations” under his leadership.
Back in 2007, tensions between the US and Russia were once again on the rise because of several issues, not least over efforts to pressure Iran about its nuclear program.
That year, Putin went as far as to accuse then-President George W Bush and the US of trying to dominate the world.
After meeting him for the first time in 2001, Mr W Bush said: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.”
A few years after the award, Putin would authorise his forces to annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. He also sent troops into the country’s east where a war in the Donbas has been raging ever since.
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