When this intense and brooding KGB agent took over as President of Russia in 2000, he found a country on the verge of becoming a failed state. With dauntless persistence, a sharp vision of what Russia should become and a sense that he embodied the spirit of Mother Russia, Putin has put his country back on the map. And he intends to redraw it himself. Though he will step down as Russia’s President in March, he will continue to lead his country as its Prime Minister and attempt to transform it into a new kind of nation, beholden to neither East nor West.
TIME’s Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. 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—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. For that reason, Vladimir Putin is TIME’s 2007 Person of the Year.
The runner-ups were Al Gore, J. K. Rowling, China’s Hu Jintao, and Gen. David Petraeus, two of whom I mentioned in my prediction.
I understand Time’s reasoning but I honestly don’t see Putin as the person of the year. I think that Time is making a mistake that Americans have made for a long time, i.e. overestimating Russia’s importance. Yes, Russia is a big country. So is Canada and the two countries have a similar GDP although Canada is enormously wealthier on a per capita basis. Yet Russia is a world power and Canada generally isn’t considered one. Why? Two answers: Russia’s nuclear arsenal and its seat on the United Nations Security Council.
I also disagree with their characterization of Russia as having chosen order over democracy. I think Putin’s undeniable popularity in Russia is due to the Russians choosing nostalgia over the future, not a winning combination.