Putin will win six more years — but what then?
Western sanctions and food embargos imposed against Russia in response to its actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are barely felt by ordinary Russians. However, the drop in value of the ruble compared to the dollar has hit Russian wallets, as inflation has been boosted. But, at the same time, the sanctions are offering some support to the government and strengthening its position, as there is a common saying among ordinary Russians: “If you are facing obstacles on your way, it means you are moving in the right direction.” Thus, for his electorate, Putin is guiding the country in the right direction. The more sanctions that are imposed, the more determined Putin’s circle of supporters are. This is part of the Russian mentality that consolidates its people around their leader. Putin has returned to Russians their national pride and a kind of “soul” that was lost in the last decades of the 20th century.
The sanctions have forced Russians to depend more on their domestic resources — mainly in agriculture — in order to satisfy their demands, for which the people are very thankful. For many Russians, Putin is an icon; he has become a symbol of identity, unlike his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who was seen as surrendering to the United States and dishonoring the country.
Putin regarded the non-involvement of Russia in the Middle East as a weakness in its foreign policy. Thus, he recommended and shaped a new strategy to return to the region and fill the power vacuum caused by the withdrawal of the US from some countries. This move and the “return” of Crimea are seen as hugely popular foreign policies that have boosted national pride and strengthened Putin’s popularity.
Result of Russian presidential election is almost certainly known, but in order to preserve his legacy incumbent is now looking at giving important positions to younger representatives who will run the country when he gives them the green light.
However, the Kremlin also faces some challenges. First of all, there is the interference of some Western players, who are openly financing and supporting the Russian opposition. Their focus is on a certain group of the nation’s youth, who are led by Alexei Navalny and form the main mass of opposition protests and sabotages. However, this Western-backed opposition has a very little chance to succeed, particularly with Navalny barred from standing.
Secondly, there is the problem of how to motivate Putin’s supporters to go out and cast their votes in the election. But this problem may have been solved by Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin’s former mentor Anatoly Sobchak and previously the main star of all the scandals of Russia’s celebrity world. Ksenia declared her candidacy last October and is attracting interest with her campaign motto: “Sobchak against all.” Her critics say that she is running a “non-Russian” agenda because of her ties to the US, so Sobchak’s candidacy looks set to inspire people to take part in the election — largely to vote against her. Russians have already had a president who sold the country to the US and they don’t want it to happen again.
Putin has been in power for 18 years and it is already known he will stay for more. But it will soon be time for him to delegate power to other people and he is already looking for strong young figures — including women — who may replace him and get public support. He is looking at assigning important positions in various state institutions to younger representatives who are supportive of the current course of the country. This group will be assigned to run Russia when he gives them the green light.
Putin’s new six-year term will be a real test for these representatives, but he is ultimately eyeing a smooth transition of power, as any turbulence could reduce all the achievements of his rule to zero.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme