No surprise…Putin did win and on the first ballot. Already commentators are talking about “the end of the Putin Era”….but the situation is not as simple as that. Russia is no “Arab Spring” country and Putin and his KGB buddies are no pushovers. Yet on the other side, the dissenters are an element of the society that is growing in influence and in capacity to confront the newly elected President and his clique.
Putin is not by instinct a liberal reformer. He is nostalgic for the old Soviet Union and its KGB traditions. Bloody killings of civic activists, dissenters, and reporters took place under his rule and no one was ever brought to justice. The rule of law does not exist in Russia today and it is a long way from doing so as long as Putin and his clique see their power as the only goal and not the well being of the Russian people and their increasing desire for more liberty and role in determining their future.
Both sides of this power struggle have their own advantages and disadvantages. In the long-run, which could be decades, the forces of the opposition are likely to gain a large measure of power and see a more democratic society. But the old tradition of Russia with a strong central authoritarian leader remains embedded in even 21st century Russia.
The question first is what will Putin now do? He can either start a crack down on the dissent or he can “play” the role of “reformer” and try to co-opt the dissenting urban middle-class with some pretext of reform and money.
So what does the election mean, what will be the future of the democratic reformers, and what does this mean for the future of Russia’s relations with the West and specifically the U.S.? Our earlier post on this remains valued after the election. The election does not change the fundamentals of the interest of Russia and its people and that of the West. Engagement and cooperation is still in the interest of both sides. Putin acknowledges this in his best moments – at least verbally – but his “bad side” moves instinctively towards antagonism and foolish actions that hurt that fundamental interest. To side with the likes of Sudan, Syria, and other such states can’t be a productive strategy since it undermines the place in the world that Putin would like to see Russia. Over time that contradiction will grow more and more apparent both to Russians and to others he must deal with abroad.
By Harry C. Blaney III.