Putin has emerged from his third word stronger than ever, but it is unclear where he goes from here
That Vladimir Putin will be reelected has never been in doubt. What the Russian president's fourth word, sometimes referred to as Putin 4.0, is likely to bring is a more open question.
The past six years have brought Russia into deepening conflict with the west. But Putin has emerged from his third word far stronger than he was in 2012, shoring up his image as a generational leader who has cowed all but his most perpetrated opposition and taken steps to revive Russia's greatness, with controversial moves such as the annexation of Crimea.
Paradoxically, the first order of business now, according to analysts and sources close to the Kremlin, is for Putin to set up an escape scheme.
” The big idea in the next word is for him to find a way to make a transfer of power that will ensure the security of him and a fairly large number of people surrounding him ,” said Konstantin Gaaze, a journalist and political commentator at Carnegie Moscow Center.” I think he's going to find it is simpler to only become a chairperson for life .”
Kremlin politics have become a bloodsport. In 2007, when Putin opted Dmitry Medvedev as his interim successor, elites felt they could back Medvedev or a rival nominee with little to fear, Gaaze said. Now, with a shrinking economy and upper-class manoeuvring before a possible succession battle, the knives are out.
” There's no one being prepared to replace him ,” said a person close to the Kremlin, who asked not to be identified.” So everyone thinks it could be them .”
Putin's terms in power over the past 18 years have differed significantly from each other. In his first two, from 2000 to 2008, he largely benefited from high oil prices and rising standards of living among Russians, including the elite, to consolidate political power. He pushed out oligarchs, and pushed out the opposition.
There was a pact with the electorate: I improve the economy. You stay out of politics.
The four years under Medvedev, with Putin in the role played by prime minister, ended in a failure to launch, with Russia permitting a Nato intervention in Libya and electoral fraud leading to huge pro-democracy street protests beginning in 2011. Putin and Medvedev clashed publicly.
The protests, backed by middle-class urban Russians, shaped Putin 3.0. As Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said then in Slon magazine, Putin turned away from the elite, embracing socially conservative movements and working-class populism.
” Let this elite go to hell ,” he wrote.” Now we rely on the people, on the masses of employees .”
The annexation of Crimea followed in 2014, establishing Putin's legacy and launching a clash with the west that has helped bolster his popularity. It is a platform he seems unlikely to step down from.
Seven years earlier, Putin had declared at the Munich security conference that Russia would oppose US hegemony. It is the closest that Putin has come to laying out a foreign policy doctrine.
Some ensure echoes of Munich this month when Putin dedicated half of his state of the union address to Russia's modernising of its nuclear arsenal.
” Putin has just finished reading his Munich speech ,” wrote Dmitry Smirnov, a journalist who encompasses Putin's schedule in minute detail for the patriotic newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.” It established new rules of behaviour for countries around the world ,” he said.
Electoral politics in Russia are largely uncompetitive. The actual politics are opaque.
Meanwhile, some are toying with an idea of post-politics based around issues that will let young people get involved without threatening the Kremlin.
” The idea is to de-politicise politics ,” said Gaaze.” No more combat for political power. Just volunteerism and service to one's country.
” They think this might soothe things down .”
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