Russia faces another six – or 12 – years of Putin at the helm
Former President Vladimir Putin, who announced yesterday that he will run again next year, is likely to win. But falling oil prices may create social discontent – and push him to make political reforms.
Russia's presidential election is still months away, but Russians are already avidly discussing what's in store for them given the prospect of six, and quite probably 12 more years of Vladimir Putin at the helm of the country.Skip to next paragraph
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For many, Mr. Putin's decision to shunt aside the incumbent president Dmitry Medvedev and take the ruling United Russia party's presidential nomination for himself was a welcome one – even if it was made by a tiny circle of people, in secret, and simply announced to a roomful of surprised party faithful on Saturday.
Putin, who rebuilt Russian state power after the disastrous decade of the 1990s and presided over one of the most stable and prosperous eras in Russian history during his first two terms in the Kremlin, still commands a nearly 70 percent approval rating in most public opinion polls.
The return of Putin, after four years of uneasy "tandem" rule, in which no one could be entirely sure who was in charge, signals the the restoration of stability, predictability, and the assurance that one strong leader is holding the reins of power.
"We regularly ask people why they support Putin," says Denis Volkov, a researcher with the Levada Center, an independent Moscow-based public opinion agency. "Roughly a third say it's because he solves problems, a third say they hope he'll solve problems, and another third say there's no alternative. This artificially created lack of alternative in our political system and media zone basically ensures constant support for the one person who's on top."
But for Russia's beleaguered democrats, many of whom had invested their hopes in the more youthful and liberal-sounding Mr. Medvedev, another term for the leader who enforced that previous era of "stability" by curbing elections, muzzling the media, and stifling civil society seems almost too much to bear.
Thanks to constitutional amendments passed under Medvedev, Putin's protégé, the next president will enjoy up to two terms of six years each, which means that Putin could remain in the Kremlin until 2024. The front-page headline Monday in the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta summed up that despairing sense that Russia now faces an interminable period of stagnation: "Stepping into Eternity," it read.