Putin Finds Expedient Hero In Four-Term U.S. President

During a question-and-answer session at the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin said FDR's New Deal had
During a question-and-answer session at the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin said FDR's New Deal had "brought the United States to the position it is in today." (By Vladimir Rodionov -- Presidential Press Service Via Associated Press)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 19, 2007

MOSCOW, Oct. 18 -- President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin political consultants and state-controlled news media have found an American to admire: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

FDR, according to a consistent story line here, tamed power-hungry tycoons to save his country from the Great Depression. He restored his people's spirits while leading the United States for 12 years and spearheaded the struggle against "outside enemies," as the mass-circulation tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda put it.

Translation: Putin rescued an enfeebled Russia from the chaos of the 1990s, banished or imprisoned dangerous billionaires and regained respect for his newly enriched country on the world stage.

And Roosevelt ran for a third and fourth term because his country needed him. Translation: Putin, too, should stay.

Putin used the Roosevelt analogy Thursday when he spoke to reporters after a televised question-and-answer session with citizens. Asked about his vision for Russia, the president invoked the New Deal, saying that "Roosevelt laid out his plan for the country's development for decades in advance" and that he often battled the elites, according to Russian news agency translations of Putin's remarks.

"At the end of the day, it turned out that the implementation of that plan benefited ordinary citizens and the elites and eventually brought the United States to the position it is in today," Putin said.

In a glowing 90-minute documentary on FDR that aired Sunday on RTR, a state TV channel usually given to growling at Washington, a narrator said that America's 32nd president "came to the conclusion that he was the only person in the country who could lead America in the right direction through the most difficult period in the country's history."

"He became the only president of the United States elected for a third time. Americans trusted him," the narrator said. "They believed that at a turning point in history he would not make a mistake."

FDR has long held a special place in Russian hearts. He is known here as the distant ally whose massive aid shipments helped Soviet forces turn back hordes of Nazi invaders in what people here call the Great Patriotic War.

His further elevation and newly forged links to Putin appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign to position the Russian president in the glow of historical greatness and to provide him with a compelling rationale for holding on to power. There have been numerous newspaper articles, a major conference and several documentaries on FDR's life, all of which, with varying degrees of subtlety, have drawn parallels with Putin's rule and future role as the end of his second term nears.

In the RTR documentary, Anatoly Utkin of the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says, "In 1939, Americans were facing exactly the same problem as we are now -- the third term."

The film cuts to black-and-white footage of street interviews with Americans:

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