Another six years of Putin (at least)
Corruption, living standards, 2014 Winter Olympics, international intervention, America's decline, and China - just some of the points on Putin's lengthy agenda
While the world waited with a notable absence of baited breath for the outcome of the Russian Presidential election, there was surprisingly little analysis of what another six years of Putin will bring for Russia and the rest of the world.
Predicting the future is infamously difficult, but while it is impossible to foresee the events that will mark the second Putin presidency the general themes that will shape it are already clear.
Following the election on March 4th there has been another wave of popular protests but they already appear to be fizzling out. The tensions in Russia resulting from a sense of disenfranchisement are simply not yet strong enough to enact real change and Putin retains a solid base of real support.
The lack of any effect coupled with the miserable weather in Moscow at this time of year will gradually whittle away the numbers, but that does not mean that the movement or its aims will be forgotten.
One event that can be predicted for Putin’s new Presidential term will be the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The vast amount of money and political capital invested in the games means that they will probably pass smoothly and be claimed as a proud demonstration of Russia’s modernisation by the government. The corruption and environmental damage on the fringes of the games will be entirely ignored by a world media enthralled by the gleaming new sports complexes and a Russian team that is sure to pull in a large haul of medals.
The domestic policy of Putin’s new presidency will be a story of balancing living standards that continue to rise and the endemic corruption infecting every aspect of the economy. Throughout the campaign Putin said that fighting corruption will be one of his priorities and there have been some high profile cases of arrests and officials jailed.
However, Putin’s power rests largely on the vast network of regional and local officials who owe their positions wholly to nepotism and exist entirely to enrich themselves. United Russia, the political party Putin founded, has been given the unfortunate nickname ‘the party of crooks and thieves’ due to the unhealthy relationship between its members, power and patronage.
For ordinary people, incomes will continue to rise so they can buy more shiny things and go on foreign holidays, but their lives will continue to be hamstrung by petty officials who require baksheesh to complete even the most ordinary of tasks. Stories abound of families having to bribe nurses to ensure their elderly relatives get fed in hospital; university entrance and degrees can be bought; the phrase ‘honest policeman’ is taken to be an oxymoron.
This will be the catch-22 in which Putin finds himself. His power rests on a network of corrupt officials he cannot effectively tackle, but not tackling corruption turns ever more people against him, his party and his entire structure of government.
Putin’s foreign policy in his second Presidency will be a return to the themes seen at the end of his first. Assertiveness, as the diplomats put it, will be a key characteristic as Putin attempts to further the relationship between the rising BRIC countries while enjoying the relative decline of America.
Russia will resist any attempts to support the uprising in Syria, in no small part because of their desire to protect their naval base in Tartus. Similarly, any attempts by the Israelis or western allies to tackle the Iranian nuclear program will be resisted, both to protect Russian interests in selling (non-military) nuclear technology to the Iranians and to uphold the principle of non-intervention, which Putin sees as having potentially deeply personal consequences.
Beyond the minor squalls in the Middle East and distant rumbling with the US, the main motif of Russian foreign policy for the next six years will be the continuing rise of China. Sino-Russian relations are fascinating; their professed friendship is at odds with border tensions and the influential ‘Clash of Civilisations’ by Samuel Huntingdon envisaged a third world war when China can no longer control its lust for the resource wealth and wide open spaces of Siberia.
Over the next six years the contrast between the continued growth of the new, global economic powerhouse and the stagnant, corrupt Russia will become ever starker. The large number of migrant Chinese workers in Russia’s far-east will continue to grow and they will keep on marrying Russian women keen on men who are hard working and sober.
In six year’s time, as the first term of Putin’s second presidency is coming to an end, the long, remote Sino-Russian border could be in global focus and a key source of tensions.
William Joce works for a Conservative MP in Westminster and has lived for extended periods in Russia, having previously worked for the Politico-Military division of the OSCE in the former USSR
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