NEW YORK – Russian President Vladimir Putin was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” on Wednesday for imposing stability that restored Russia as a world power.
The magazine recognized Putin’s “extraordinary feat of leadership in taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability,” said Richard Stengel, Time’s managing editor.
The magazine noted that “Person of the Year” is not an honor or endorsement but a recognition of leadership that shapes the world.
“He’s the new czar of Russia and he’s dangerous in the sense that he doesn’t care about civil liberties, he doesn’t care about free speech,” Stengel said.
But in prizing stability over freedom, he’s made Russia powerful again and beholden to no nation, the magazine said.
Putin, 55, is enormously popular in Russia, presiding over a resurgent economy flush with revenue from oil and natural gas. But critics say he has moved away from democracy by tightening control of the courts, parliament and the media.
Putin recently endorsed protégé Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential bid and said he would accept Medvedev’s offer to serve as prime minister if Medvedev is elected March 2. Many believe Putin would remain Russia’s real leader, regardless of his title, though Putin has said he would not undermine his successor.
The Kremlin said Wednesday the Time recognition was seen there as an acknowledgment of Putin’s role in helping Russia pull out of its social and economic troubles in the 1990s.
“We do hope this will … help a better understanding of modern Russia, better understanding that Russia is a democratic country … that is standing for fair play and avoiding double standards” internationally, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a conference call with reporters.
The last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was named Man of the Decade by Time in 1989 for his world-changing reforms, said Putin was a good choice for stabilizing the country.
“If Putin did only that – led the country away from the abyss, from division and disintegration, that is already a historic deed,” Gorbachev told Ekho Moskvy radio.
“We have different views of certain issues, but the most important thing is a turn in the direction of the country, of improving the quality of life,” Gorbachev said.
Others considered for Person of the Year included Nobel Prize-winner Al Gore and author J.K. Rowling.
This year’s choice was a return to the magazine’s tradition of picking an individual rather than last year’s choice of anyone creating or using content on the World Wide Web.