Despite Putin's resounding victory in the recently held Russian Presidential elections, his latest tenure may well prove to be the final nail in the coffin of his political career.
Russia erupted in widespread protest on 4th of March following the presidential election results, which saw Vladimir Putin coming back to power for a record third time. Not that there was much doubt surrounding the outcome. Putin was expected to be reinstated not because of his overwhelming and widespread popularity among his compatriots, but because of a pernicious cocktail of extensive and shameless vote rigging and denouncing and marginalization of any potential candidate. Even the tears of a seemingly moved Putin in his swearing in ceremony, failed to garner any sort of sympathy and support, with the media brandishing his emotional outpouring as a well thought out act and labeled his tears as “crocodile tears”.
Putin’s latest stint is expected to be shrouded with uncertainty and instability, something which became quite evident during his election campaign. And going by the latest public outrage, this very well may be the beginning of the end of Putin’s reign. Whether it is a desirable outcome from Russia’s perspective is a debatable topic.
The Road Ahead....
Putin’s rise to power more than a decade ago marked the beginning of an era of prosperity for Russia , a nation beleaguered by shambolic economic development and political chaos. The instability and political pandemonium that gripped Russia in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, threatened to drag this once mighty nation into a bottomless abyss of poverty and wretchedness. So for many Russians, the political stability that Putin managed to usher in was a welcome relief. Coupled with his machoistic no nonsense image, Russians looked upto Putin as a panacea to all their troubles, a person who will regain the lost glory of their nation.
However after twelve years, the people of Russia’s love affair with Putin seem to have taken a bitter turn. For a long time Russians were perceived by the rest of the world as a group of cynical people who were only interested in minting money. But since then the Russian society in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world has evolved. A vibrant, vocal and powerful middle class has sprung up who are extremely aware of their democratic rights and has started to view the incumbent administration as an ill- governed kleptocracy. The extent of their discontent became all too evident last year during September, when Putin for the first time announced that he will be running for Presidency for a third time, swapping powers with Dmitry Medvedev. The rigged parliamentary polls in December elicited a widespread spontaneous outburst of protest, which has not subsided since then.
Though the middle class are his staunchest detractors, increasingly the less well-off and cosmopolitan Russians are also shying away from Putin. People are fed up by the rampant corruption that has pervaded every level of the society and Putin’s repeated failure to institute much needed reforms. People are also no longer buying Putin’s age old claim that his critics are largely stooges of the West and he has the full support of the common man.
How this volatile situation will pan out, largely depends on the choices that Putin makes. He may embrace the changes that are needed or may try to repress it. His past record in the KGB and his dictatorial image suggest that he will lean towards the later course of action. But that will only give a fillip to the corruption that has started to disgruntle and infuriate the Russian people. Russia’s rulers view corruption as a de facto side effect of power. A select group of “Untouchables” living under the blessings of the current government has amassed wealth, which is beyond the wildest dreams of even the tsars. For those selected few, the continuation of Putin’s reign is of paramount importance.
But keeping the aspirations of the common public at bay may prove to be a difficult chore for even Putin who is notorious for using heavy handed tactics to clamp down on any opposition. He only managed to stifle opposition for the past decade by the virtue of Russia’s scorching economic growth fuelled by a global escalation in oil prices. Incidentally oil and gas constitute two thirds of Russia’s export portfolio. However a sudden plummeting of gas prices because of shale gas discoveries and global price of crude remaining stagnant do not portend well for the future of Russia’s economy. Also the fact that Europe, which is Russia’s largest market , is currently at doldrums- All of these can wipe away the economic gains of the past decade. With a fiscal deficit, currently pegged at 40% of the country’s GDP and a shrinking working population, Putin will have his hands full trying to keep the general public content
On the other hand Putin will start on the right note if he declares that that he will not running for Presidency in 2018. He also needs to institute the much needed reforms to give the country’s dwindling economy a much needed boost. Putin has displayed immense virtue and wisdom in the past so the onus is on him to opt for the right choices and leave a legacy that he can be proud of. Failing that his image will forever be sullied in the annals of Russia’s political history.