Yes, the Kremlin added 10-12 percent onto the actual vote, but Putin won the elections legitimately. He received less than 50 percent in Moscow but his popularity is high in the regions.
Putin is key to Russia’s development. Putin version 2.0 is primarily occupied with how he can sustain the current situation in Russia. Putin’s paradox lies in the fact that he is going through the dilemma of the modernizing autocrat. He has put Russia in order. The order and stability he has provided has created a new middle class. Putin 1.0 benefitted immensely from ordinary Russian anxiety about chaos. In the past, Russians clearly showed that they were willing to sacrifice democracy for security. This might be changing. An average of 35 million Russians travel abroad every year. A new middle class is emerging and they are likely to demand more protection from the state and its relentless corruption. Moreover, Russia’s middle class is unlikely to go along with Putin’s imperial nostalgia.
Russia is a truly diverse country. The Russian regions are going through a political awakening. All the signs point to the fact that the political awakening is not limited to Moscow and St. Petersburg alone. That said, the speed of this political awakening is uneven. Dmitri Trenin is an astute analyst who has been following Russia for years. His analysis points to Russia being on the move, in constant change. In a recent piece he concludes: “The alternative to a careful top-down dismantling of the present system, which is wholly built on corruption, will be a massive assault on that system -- and the state itself. The new phase of the Russian political awakening is just beginning.”
The ultimate test for Putin 2.0 will be his ability to improve the economy. He wants to save Russia from becoming a northern Saudi Arabia and diversify the economy. However, he totally missed out on perestroika and glasnost as he was stationed in East Germany. He is a staunch statist. I cannot see how he can succeed in diversifying the economy.
On the foreign policy front the most important item for Putin 2.0 will be missile defense. Of course, the outcome of the US presidential election will be watched closely. US interests are important for him. Barring a surprise win by Mitt Romney, Putin will go about fighting US missile defense systems. Should Romney win, he will probably re-examine his strategy opposing missile defense systems. Putin is not interested in arms reduction. He will strive to strike a deal with the US on missile defense. If he is able to do that, he will be able to show that unlike Dmitry Medvedev, who failed to stop missile defense systems, he succeeded in obtaining a deal. That is something to show in Russia. Russia is likely to maintain its current position on Iran as both China and Russia do not want a nuclear Iran, albeit for different reasons.
Turkish-Russian relations will continue to be cordial. Putin is probably upset about the early warning radar system in Malatya but understands that the system is primarily aimed at Iran. The trade and energy relationship continues to flourish as the bilateral relationship has become a structural feature of the region. There are adequate stakeholders on either side to maintain the partnership. That said, Russia’s Syria policy has seriously wounded its image in Ankara. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leadership is extremely unhappy about Moscow’s motives in Syria.
Putin 2.0 needs to be followed very closely, not only from a regional perspective but also on what happens inside Russia. I am convinced there will be a lot to follow during the next phases of Russia’s inevitable political awakening.