Putin needs to look beyond fourth term

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/11 20:33:39

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday his plan to run for re-election in March 2018, putting an end to long speculation surrounding his postponed declaration.

The announcement did not attract an intense reaction from the international media, which was distracted by US President Donald Trump's tax cut policy and his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Furthermore, it reflects that they are psychologically ready for Putin seeking re-election.

Therefore, media outlets will pay more attention to what Putin must do in the next term and in what way the power will shift six years later, instead of whether he will win.

Since 2000, when Putin came to power, he has entirely reversed the country's depressed landscape of economic bust and its decline in international status. That Russia can maintain its influence in the Asia-Pacific region, Eurasia and the Middle East should indeed be attributed to his superb political art.

Since the Ukraine crisis erupted, the sanctions of Western countries collapsed the Russian economy, added to other Western containment. But Russia managed to adjust its national development strategies, one of which was reforming its economic structure that was heavily dependent on energy. This year, Russia's GDP growth rate has reached 1.8 percent.

The Kremlin has also made breakthroughs in diplomacy, with a bold intervention in the Syrian war. Putin always plays the role of a nation-saver at critical times; the Russian people also need such a figure. Facts have also proven that no one can replace him in present-day Russia.

Nonetheless, those born after 1990 are gradually dominating mainstream public opinion. These youngsters lack an intuitive sense of the chaos in the post-Soviet Union time, so they could hardly see the efforts Putin made to reverse the country's decline.

As a generation deeply immersed in the Internet, they see a totally different scenario from their parents.

The Russian economy did not show any sign of a rebound since its free-fall in 2014, but the recovery benefited from the prohibitive international energy prices. Corruption still prevails. For instance, former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov was fired by Putin as his ministry was caught up in a corruption scandal and former economy minister Alexey Ulyukaev was detained for taking bribes.

Russia also sees an increasingly divided society, featuring more tensions among different classes, ethnic groups and even cultural communities. Their dissatisfaction with Putin has become the foundation of Russia's opposition party. The opposition will not hinder Putin from being re-elected, but they will likely organize various activities before and after the election to impose pressure on the Kremlin.

The opposition can't challenge Putin, but they have a large support base. It is reported that they have already started political arrangements for the post-Putin era after 2024.

Currently, there is almost no suspense over whether Putin will be re-elected, but in his next term he has to lay a solid foundation for Russia's stable and healthy development.

In the first place, he needs to cultivate the next generation of political elites to smoothly transfer his power. By 2024, he will have been in office for over 20 years. He might not seek re-election out of his own will, but no one can replace him in leading Russia out of its current plight. In recent years, he has actually begun fostering a generation of political elites who were born in the 1970s and 80s.

In addition, Putin needs to clarify Russia's future development path. The Russian economy has seen signs of recovery in 2017 and hence the government has some spare time to mull over its future.

There are a series of issues waiting to be answered: Does Russia consider itself to be a Eurasian nation? How will Russia continue to reform now that an energy-producing economy does not work? Will the Russian government maintain its authoritarian regime or gradually loosen political control?

Putin also needs to create a relatively flexible external environment for Russia's development. Though Moscow in no way fears any confrontation against the West, their deteriorating ties since 2014 have wielded a negative influence on Russian society. Their bilateral relations can't afford to worsen further, but it is hard to improve them. 

Furthermore, Putin should try his best to handle social problems, and in particular the severe social divisions. He has a long, arduous way to go in his fourth term to bolster national rejuvenation and to fulfill his promise - "Give me 20 years and you will not recognize Russia."

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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