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.
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Under the czars, after the 1905 revolution, political parties were tiny and impotent. Parliaments (Dumas) have almost never had a true lawmaking function. In the best case, they became talking clubs. At their worst, the Supreme Soviet rubber stamped the most egregious legislation.Skip to next paragraph
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The evolution of the post-communist Duma and presidency is a sad testimony to the same process. As before, the all-powerful executive branch – be it the czar, the secretary general, president, or prime minister – more often than not rules by an ukaz, a fiat.
In fact, Russia’s western-sounding pseudo-institutions – such as courts, political parties, and the bicameral parliament – have made Putin’s “managed democracy” just another term for autocracy. The power system today is more stagnant than the long rule of cold-war leader Leonid Brezhnev, and is barely capable of deceiving Russians and foreigners alike. The outcomes of upcoming Duma and presidential elections are of course known in advance.
Russia has been a conundrum for Western policymakers for centuries. Yet the Obama administration claimed great progress in a “reset” policy based on chummy relations between President Obama and Mr. Medvedev. The reset would, they insisted, usher in a new era of cooperation and friendship between the two nations.
As the Heritage Foundation think tank has continuously warned, these policies will be challenged once Putin returns. The administration claims “reset” has already borne fruit. It points to many accomplishments, including Russia’s assistance in building a transport network to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan; cooperation on UN sanctions against Iran; and pursuit of arms control agreements.
Yet on other key issues, such as NATO enlargement and missile defense, the chasm remains deep. And Russian cooperation has come at a cost. For example, the administration has considerably toned down its support for Russian neighbors seeking Western orientation and alliances, effectively recognizing the Russian “sphere of privileged interests” in the former Soviet space.
With the geopolitical macho Putin returning to a more internationally prominent role (and Medvedev shunted to the diminished prime ministry, essentially, an economic management slot), Mr. Obama and other Western leaders will have to deal with the longest-serving leader among the G-8. Putin will command the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. And he will have Russia’s massive economic resources, including a $400 billion cash cushion, oil and gas reserves, and a cornucopia of raw materials, at his beck and call.