What does Forbes’ list say about political power?

Listing Russian President Vladimir Putin as the most powerful man of the world for the 3rd consecutive year raised questions about the relevance of US magazine Forbes from commentators who wrote this is inaccurate, at worst complacent. Whatever the opinion one can have about Putin, the fact is that he’s more able than any other leader in the world to do whatever he thinks good for Russia, and for his clan his detractors would add. Putin benefits from constant high level of popularity at home which most of the other leaders, from Barack Obama to François Hollande don’t have.

Sure, Russia’s political system greatly differs from western ones, yet Putin’s popularity has been real for years. On the foreign policy front, Putin has got exactly what he wanted on every issue he has involved himself personally, from Ukraine to Syria. On the economic front, Russia’s situation has deteriorated indeed but comparing such a vast natural resources-rich country in USD-based analysis with other countries could prove quite irrelevant, considering that Russia has, by herself, what she needs to overcome most difficult times, especially in the energy field. Russia’s ties with China have built up and though it takes time to bear fruits, Putin is able to think long-term contrary to his western counterparts who spent a large portion of their mandates running for office.

On the military front, there are some technological gaps Russia has been working hard to fill, however its air and strategic capabilities have been upgraded and Russia has the means to make its sovereignty unquestionable, at home and abroad. The rapid deployment of Russian modern forces in Syria, including the weeks-long building of a complete airfield, has surprised NATO up to the point that western intelligence sources said there’s real need for a large update of the “plans”. As for the relevance of the Forbes’ list, Cyceon thinks it provides further evidence that power is not only a delicate equation of effective power but chiefly an addition of both effective power and the public perception of such effective power. Putin is not only the world’s most powerful people, he has been perceived as such for a long time. Putin knows how to convey messages. The world audience, including Forbes, has received them loud and clear.

Another instance is having French President François Hollande at only the 16th place, far from Angela Merkel’s second place and Obama’s third. In effective terms, Hollande would very likely be among the top 5, considering the role played by France on the international scene and its very capable technology-advanced industry and military. France’s engagement at the UNSC, in Africa and world affairs, against terrorism, makes it a most-committed country whose influence remains great despite growing domestic difficulties. As the President of France, Hollande is thus one of the most powerful man of the world effectively. But his political weakness at home and his leadership’s appearance leads to a distorted perception of his real power, hence his lousy 16th place. Power is also a question of perception and it doesn’t necessarily have to be democratic.

From that viewpoint, Forbes’ list is worth reading.