Putin faces major challenges at home

Putin faces major challenges at home

We don’t know how much electoral fraud took place in the presidential elections held in Russia over the weekend, if indeed it did take place. The opposition insists vote rigging was rife, while the election’s “premeditatedly preordained victor” Vladimir Putin maintains it was a “free and fair race.”

While the percentage of the vote he received may be less than he would have liked, the point is – fraud or no fraud – Putin is once again set to be the latter-day czar of the Russians. There is one school of though which says predictability, when it comes to a country as vast as Russia, is always better, and that Putin represents “the devil we know,” as opposed to the one we don’t know.

Others, however, point to the acrimonious election campaign he conducted with large doses of vitriol flung in the direction of the West and see problems on the horizon. Ever since accusations of irregularities from the West over the recent parliamentary elections in Russia, and especially after tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets against him, Putin has been accusing the West of meddling in his country’s domestic affairs.

His election campaign was also based largely on ratcheting up the anti-Western nationalist narrative. Given the stance that Moscow has taken on Syria, on the other hand, it is clear that Putin is hardly likely to stress democracy and human rights in the Middle East, let alone his own country.

In fact, most analysts agree the Arab Spring caused concern among Moscow’s political elite because of the example it provides for restive elements in Russia. Recent statements from Putin, on the other hand, clearly show he is more interested in a “Strong Mother Russia” than democratic Russia.

Therefore the chances are that Russia under Putin will once more be an assertive and nationalistic country pushing not for democracy but its own strategic interests.

The fact that Russia has massive domestic problems today makes the second Putin era even more dangerous, since experience has shown that undemocratic countries faced with domestic dissatisfaction tend to invent external enemies in order to focus attention elsewhere. But clearly Russia’s domestic problems will not go away with this approach.

Zbignew Brzezinski, in his latest book “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power,” paints a dire picture of Russia at it stands today.

“Widespread global awareness of Russia’s social liabilities and relatively modest standard of living discredits its international aspirations. Its grave demographic crisis – a negative population growth marked by high death rates – is a testimonial to social failure, with the relatively short life span of its males being the consequence of widespread alcoholism and its resulting demoralization.”

Indicating that it is only the Moscow and St. Petersburg regions that come near to matching the West’s standard of living, Brzezinski says, “in comparison to Turkey, Russia’s social performance ratings – despite the fact that it ranks overall No. 1 in territory, No. 9 in population and No. 2 in the number of nuclear weapons – are actually somewhat worse and can be considered at best only middling in comparison.”

It seems therefore that Mr. Putin may have his job cut out for him during his new term. Time will tell if nationalist and anti-Western bombast is all he has to offer, or if he has a vision to democratize Russia and put it on the path of true economic and social development. If appearances count for anything, however, it is still too early to invest much hope in the latter option.