As governments in France and Greece have been plunged into turmoil following a rebuke of the austerity measures pushed by conservative governments, a place where change was most needed inaugurated a steady hand. Earlier this morning Vladimir Putin placed his hand on the constitution of the Russian Federation and was sworn in for his third time as president. The BBC was quick to point out that if he is able to complete this six-year term, Putin would be the longest serving leader of modern Russia and second only to Joseph Stalin. So, what should we expect in the coming years from Putin’s Russia?
1. The Appointment of Dmitri Medvedev as Prime Minister – Every story has a deal behind it. Medvedev’s fast rise to power came out of the need for Putin to have a place holder and someone who would keep all the ministers in place. Medvedev kept all of his promises and will be rewarded with a post of Prime Minister. I would give him two years in the post, as he will become a scapegoat for either economic decline, social unrest, or both.
2. Increased Transparency in the Legislative Process – Despite widespread allegations of election fraud in the parliamentary elections, the party led by Putin, United Russia, failed to get a two-thirds majority needed for constitutional changes and fast implementation of the law. As such, they will need the minority parties to support various provisions in the law and Putin will not have the ability to simply dictate to the State Duma. There is a high possibility for very public disagreements between the two branches of government. This is the norm for the Western world, but in Russia where such divisions are seen as a sign of weakness, they may only add fuel to the fire of expected public unrest.
3. Public Unrest – Prior to the inauguration, the most outspoken and active leaders of the opposition were detained. That in itself failed to stop the protest from going forward and only led to increase the determination of the protestors that led to confrontation with police. We should expect the pattern of intimidation and heavy-handedness to continue. However, the political dynamics and the degree to which the state legislators are willing to stand up to the president will determine how large and lasting the unrest in the country is. Recent mergers into a single opposition of the far-right, made by nationalist and fascist parties along with the far-left Yabloko party, is a new and emerging dynamic and a sign of a common enemy being found in United Russia. The opposition must stay united and be as obstructionist as possible.
4. Looking for Friends Abroad – Russia will be drawing closer to China and friends in Asia. Russia has previously been supportive of the Assad regime in Syria and the tactic of using force to suppress dissent before and will only continue to do so. Russia will need China more than ever to shield it from increased criticism from the West, particularly if the social unrest is maintained. The Obama or Romney administrations must engage with civil society and human rights groups in Russia to remind the authorities that we are engaged and are keeping them accountable.
5. Tighter Restrictions on the Internet - As the only source of free information, the Internet will be monitored and increasingly restricted. Internet freedom must be protected in the international law and monitored by U.S. Administration officials and human rights groups.