The cost of a Putin presidency 2.0 in Russia
When Putin returns to the presidency next year, it will mean stability in Russia. But that comes at a cost – stagnation, as Russia groans under autocracy, corruption, cronyism, and social ills. The US must be realistic about Russia's strengths and weaknesses.
Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the presidency next year means stability – and stagnation – for Russians. And neighboring nations, as well as the United States, should prepare for a tough counterpart.Skip to next paragraph
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Unflinching understanding of Mr. Putin’s – and Russia’s – strengths and weaknesses is the necessary condition for a realistic American policy.
With last weekend’s announcement that Putin will be the ruling party’s nominee for the 2012 elections, he may become the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin, who ruled for almost 30 years.
Putin has held the reins of power – first as president and now as prime minister – since 2000. Another two-term presidency, totaling 12 years, would keep him in charge until 2024. Putin’s protégé, current President Dmitry Medvedev, is heading for the job of prime minister, but were he to later resettle into the presidency – with Putin possibly switching back to prime minister – the “tandem” could conceivably rule until 2036.
With more Putin, however, Russia faces a trade-off of stagnation for stability. Yes, Mr. Medvedev talks about broad modernization. He vocally supports direct elections for the Council of the Federation, the upper house of parliament. He also talks of building up the nation’s “knowledge economy.” Yet during his presidential term he has accomplished little.
Putin talks about selectively importing Western technologies necessary to strengthen Russia’s defense and energy industries. Far from breaking ground, this is a traditional Russian catch-up model for modernization. It has been in place at least since Peter the Great, the stern and westernizing monarch who brought European fashions – and military tactics – to Russia. This founder of St. Petersburg, the home town of Putin and Medvedev, is Putin’s hero.
Political modernization, including the return to the cacophonous multi-party democracy of the Yeltsin era, will be tough to pull off in Putin’s third term. This is regrettable, but not surprising. For over three centuries, western institutions that were imported to Russia underwent such degradation that they became mere contraptions.