The Magazine

Waiting for Putin

Moscow air show hell.

Sep 14, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 48 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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But the worst blow of all was that a cornucopia of innovative new technologies that Russian enterprises had been promising for months to show at MAKS never saw the light of day. A list of 20 new aerospace systems to be revealed at the show was placed on Putin's desk for his approval. Unfortunately, he was not there to sign it because he was off surveying the damage done by the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant accident in southern Siberia.

The fact that Putin had to give personal permission to display these new systems lays bare the dysfunctional nature of Russia's security services. Most countries have an institutionalized export-license clearance process that never requires the signature of anyone near the head-of-state level. Also, for some reason no one could explain, Russia's president and chief executive, Dmitri Medvedev, lacked the authority to sign in Putin's absence--even though in theory he outranks him.

That left all of Russia's aerospace sector hoping to be able to show off their best and brightest--and all of us in the press wanting to write about it--waiting for Mr. Putin. But his signatures never came. Russian industry's one shot in 2009 to show the world what they can do turned out to be a blank cartridge. Come to think of it, maybe this was a perfect demonstration of what Putin's Russia has to offer its foreign business partners.

Reuben F. Johnson writes on aerospace and foreign affairs.