It’s been 18 years that Vladimir Putin has been ruling Russia. He has recently sworn in for his fourth Kremlin term amidst nationwide protest rallies that resulted in the arrests of at least 1,200 anti-Putin demonstrators. The internal situation in Russia is unstable but Kremlin is bent on repressing the opposition.
Russia’s Interior Ministry said about half of the 1,200 arrests happened in Moscow but the monitoring group OVD-Info put the number at more than 1,600 across 20 cities. Anti-Putin leader Alexei Navalny was arrested in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on May 5, but he later tweeted that he had been released and will face charges of organising an unauthorised meeting and for resisting the police. Navalny was barred from challenging Putin in the recent Presidential elections. He had called out to Russians to stage a day of rallies across the country on May 5, under the slogan “Not our Tsar”.
Putin has promised a massive spending on infrastructure, healthcare and social security. He said improving Russians’ quality of life would be his priority. According to him, Russia is at a crossroad where decisive modernisation is crucial to prevent the country from rotting from within. Putin stated, “Stability is important, but we can’t afford this stability if it holds us back from what we need to do.”
If Putin fulfils the goals he has set, Russia will be highly advanced by 2024. Many of its poor roads will be improved and people will be living significantly longer. However, there are substantial doubts that are being raised regarding the real extent of his achievements. According to a state polling agency, less than half of the Russian population really trusts Putin. According to Andrew Wood, a Russia analyst at Britain’s Chatham House, “The main objective of the incumbent regime is to protect its hold on power.”
The government is planning to raise the age for state pensions as a way to cut expenditures. Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich is in favour of raising income taxes by a couple of percentage points to boost the otherwise sluggish economy. The upcoming FIFA Football World Cup in Russia is likely to give a boost to the economy. According to Dvorkovich, “I can say that without the World Cup, there would be no economic growth at the moment.”
The geopolitical standoff
The beginning sets a stark tone for Putin’s new term. It remains locked in a geopolitical standoff with the West over a range of issues, including Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, alleged meddling in the U.S. elections, and support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin is sure to continue to assert Russia’s role on the world stage, apparently committed to military involvement in Syria and showing no signs of backing down from Moscow’s support for the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Putin’s next political course
Putin’s new term which will extend his rule to over a quarter-century if he completes it. He secured an official tally of 77% of the vote share in the recently concluded elections. Although there were complaints of ballot-stuffing and other violations, his support was clearly high. Yet, when the Russian Public Opinion Research Center asked Russians a month later which politician they trusted to solve the country’s problems only 47% chose Putin. The apparent discrepancy between Putin’s vote share and his trust rating suggests that Putin is important to Russians not so much for what he accomplishes but for what he is, the embodiment of their national identity. The constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term in 2024 and it’s not clear if he would want another one badly enough. He would be 72 and trying to alter the constitution to stay in office might prove risky. Instead, he could bestow favor on a malleable successor and continue to run things from behind the scenes.