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Putin’s return puts Russia at crossroads

September 28, 2011

Russia is facing a choice between reform and dictatorship with the announcement that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intends to return to the Kremlin.


by Ulf Mauder

MOSCOW: “Putin forever,” “Putin for life,” “Putin – our past, present and future” – with these ironic headlines, Russian newspapers greeted the announcement that Vladimir Putin intends to return to the presidency next year.

For many commentators, the news demonstrates that Russia is at a crossroads, facing a choice between reform and dictatorship.

After four years in the subordinate role of prime minister, the 58-year-old former KGB officer is set to move back into the Kremlin in 2012, easing out Dmitry Medvedev (picture below), his close political associate
for more than a decade.

Nobody doubts that Putin – a quintessential power politician – once again wants to have his finger on the nuclear trigger and to open the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

What about what the people want? What about elections? callers to Echo Moskvy radio asked.

A straw poll conducted by the broadcaster found that 70 percent of those asked wanted to escape Putin’s “system of the state dictating its will”.

Young people, especially, complained that they could not reach their full potential if they did not play along with a political and social system characterised by “corruption and nepotism”.

If given the choice between leaving and staying, few Echo Moskvy listeners saw a future in remaining in Russia.

Growing dissatisfaction

The broadcaster’s poll was not representative, but it was not alone among the media in revealing a growing dissatisfaction over the possibility of Putin looming over the lives of Russians for a long time to come.

Senior officials quoted in other Russian media have said that even many powerful people resent that Putin – who has effectively held the reins in Moscow for more than a decade – will again be able to
distribute the highest offices in this vast country.

The constitution allows him a further two consecutive terms as president, right up to 2024, following a change extending the term from four to six years.

Putin rather than Medvedev is already running Russia’s policies, implied finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who struck at the president’s legitimacy by saying he wanted to consult with Putin following a spat with Medvedev.

Kudrin then resigned from his post on Monday.

The question of reforms – including a genuine attempt to root out corruption, with legal reforms and measures to boost human rights and civil society – remains a major issue in Russia.

The magazine The New Times takes a gloomy view, asking who will win in a battle of “Putin the reformer versus Putin the dictator”.

Other media commented that no real reforms could be expected from either Putin or Medvedev, who is set to return to the role of prime minister next year in a reverse of the swap that took place in 2008.

Promised reforms

Putin’s critics expect that he will move to further restrict democratic freedoms in order to retain power.

Former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, for one, sees no route out of Russia’s “paralysing stasis”. According to Kasyanov, who held office from 2000 to 2004, this will inevitably lead to an extremely dangerous situation, just as in Arab countries.

Russia’s earnings from its oil and gas resources – which back up Putin’s grip on power – are not endless, particularly in the light of the global economic crisis, the former premier warned.

Political scientist Vladislav Belov speaking to the German Press Agency dpa was more cautious about what Putin would do.

“Putin knows as well as anyone that there is great dissatisfaction in the country,” Belov says. “He is clever enough not to allow it to escalate.”

Polls indicate the United Russia party in the Dec 4 parliamentary elections may garner fewer votes than it did in 2007.

Medvedev, who has failed to deliver on promised reforms, is to campaign as the leading candidate of the increasingly unpopular governing party. According to the tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolez, Putin will be able to shift responsibility for any electoral debacle onto him.



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