Russia’s Next President: If Not Putin, Then Who? – OpEd


By Somar Wijayadasa

Russia’s elections are scheduled for 15 to 17 March.

For decades, the Presidential elections of Russia have been closely watched and scrutinized by all countries around the world—because Russia is the largest country in the world and the richest in natural resources. It is despised by the West and loved by several others in the rest of the world.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who has been elected to the Russian presidency in the past, is a candidate for the Presidency. He easily won the elections in 2000, 2004, and 2012, and in 2018, he garnered 77% of the vote.

Many aspiring candidates

Among the candidates seeking the presidency are experienced politicians. On the campaign trail, they talk about various issues, including their love for Russia and protecting it from the West’s “devious attempts to dismantle it,” promises to end the war in Ukraine, and offers of various perks and promises.

Some candidates talk about eradicating corruption, lack of economic growth, low living standards, high cost of living, and improving relations with the West.

These are persuasive slogans to many, but not to the elderly Russians who lived in the Soviet era that ended with the humiliating disintegration of the Soviet Union.

I know of many prominent and proven politicians who are winnable candidates, but they refrain from contesting as they prefer Putin to be a viable candidate.

As elsewhere, Russians evaluate the candidates based on their qualities, qualifications, past service to the nation, and, most importantly, their ability and desire to protect the unity and sovereignty of Russia.

Currently, Putin is indisputably the leading candidate for multiple reasons. Whether he can win another term depends on many issues—past and present.

Russia’s trials and tribulations

Russia has been in the news since its Socialist Revolution in 1917, for winning the second world war, for freeing the Eastern European countries from the Nazis, and for marching to Berlin to end the brutal war.

It is a documented fact by the Military Tribunal in Nuremberg that the former Soviet Union lost more than 27 million people—including 8.7 million military and 19 million civilians, and that the largest number of civilian deaths in a single city occurred during the Siege of Leningrad where 1.2 million Russians died.

But the country was rebuilt from the total devastation of the Second World War and further developed to the amazement of the whole world.

When I visited Moscow in 1962, the Soviet Union was a proud nation with a thriving economy, marvels of industrialization, advances in science, technology and medicine, escapades into outer space (ahead of the United States), and basking in the glory of a Superpower.

During the Cold War era, the Americans and Soviets partnered in many mutually beneficial scientific and educational projects and cooperated in many bilateral arms reduction treaties to reduce their stockpile of nearly 70,300 nuclear warheads to a total of 13,865—still ample to scorch our earth—when compared to the two American atomic bombs that scorched Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing 140,000 and 74,000 people, respectively.

Those were the good old pragmatic days when we had sagacious leaders engaging in the concepts of ‘détente’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’ and those working for the peace and prosperity of all mankind.

The dreaded, unforgettable and unforgiving past

The tragic downfall of the former Soviet Union began in the 1980s as its social, political, and economic problems began to accumulate.

During my routine biennial visits to Moscow in the 1990s, it was heartbreaking to see the downfall—bribery, corruption, and criminality had permeated the entire state apparatus and businesses.

There was food rationing, unpaid salaries and pensions, rampant crime, and gang rivalry were the norm. Russian politics, economy, military and society were in disarray, and by 1998, the government was officially bankrupt, having devalued the ruble and defaulted on its debts, and more than 42 million Russians lived below the poverty line.

I vividly recall the era of Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin—with Ronald Reagan’s ordering: “tear down that Berlin Wall”, “dismantle the evil empire”.

A mistake of that era was for Gorbachev to accept America’s request to vacate the Soviet presence in Eastern European countries, saying that “we [NATO] will not move an inch into those former Eastern European countries towards Russia”.

Thus began NATO’s aggressive and intrusive military expansion towards Russia that continues to date, violating Russia’s security interests. Putin reiterates that as a major factor in the current War in Ukraine.

When Yeltsin came to power in 1991, the US held high hopes of gaining influence in Russia and provided tens of billions of dollars in economic assistance from the IMF, World Bank, etc.

The US sent political and economic advisers to work with Yeltsin’s officials in the nascent private sector to promote democracy and install a market economy. That miserably failed, ending in absolute chaos, enriching a few and impoverishing many—a colossal financial loss, embarrassment and disappointment for the US.

For Russians, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the most humiliating and unforgettable moment in Russian history.

I reminisce about this recent past, as the distressed elderly Russians (today’s majority of voters) are constantly fearful of the fate of their beloved Russia.

Putin resuscitated Russia

Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, inheriting a run-down military, a literally bankrupt Russia in a deep recession, and absolute disarray. It was so chaotic that Gorbachev admitted that Putin inherited “political chaos, military chaos, chaos everywhere.” A disgraced Russia was in shambles.

Putin quickly developed the economy with new industries and investments, revamped its military, decreased poverty by boosting agricultural production and construction, increased workers’ salaries and granted higher pensions to pensioners who silently suffered for decades.

For over twenty years, Putin has preserved Russia’s unity, advanced its military supremacy, zealously guarded Russia’s sovereignty, and restored its status as a global power.

The animosity between Russia and the West

Young voters question why Putin cannot collaborate with the West. Putin has answered that question many times. He has reiterated, “America loves subservient leaders who obey their orders”. “US prefers diktat rather than dialogue”, “America does not need allies, it needs vassals”. Therein lies the problem.

As I know well, Putin abhors orders, especially if the West’s demands are contrary to Russia’s best interests. When Western leaders realized that Putin could not be manipulated, they began to demonize him. Thus began the “Putin-mania” and “Russophobia.”

I have known young and old Russians quite well for over 60 years. They are proud of their centuries-old history and heritage, having patriotically defeated Napoleon and Hitler, and proud of its status as a world power. They are content with the current free market economy and the perks that come with it.

Russians are well-educated, disciplined, and knowledgeable about local and foreign affairs.

They love their country and prefer a steadfast leader. Therefore, they will vote for a candidate who would not only develop the country but also zealously protect Russia from foreign intervention.

Coincidentally or not, during his address to the nation last week, Putin said that he would “continue to defend Russia’s freedom, preserve its history and traditions, further develop its democratic institutions and protect its sovereignty, not allowing anyone to interfere in its internal affairs.”

*Somar Wijayadasa, a Moscow-educated international lawyer, was a Faculty Member of the University of Sri Lanka, worked in UN organizations (IAEA & FAO), was a Delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly, and was a Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations in New York.


IDN-InDepthNews offers news analyses and viewpoints on topics that impact the world and its peoples. IDN-InDepthNews serves as the flagship of the International Press Syndicate Group

2 thoughts on “Russia’s Next President: If Not Putin, Then Who? – OpEd

  • March 9, 2024 at 4:32 am

    Putin has dismantled democracy in Russia, instituting a neo-fascist regime of atrocious war crimes in Ukraine, coupled with steep repression of democratic opposition in Russia itself. Russia’s elections are no more than a cruel farce, reflecting only the Kremlin’s evil recourse to murder of opponents such as Navalny, and with many hundreds of peaceful opposants now in jail.

  • March 10, 2024 at 12:35 am

    It is the evil US that caused destructions, death and discord all over the world using fake and abused democracy, human rights and freedom.


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