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Putin: A New Era Or More Of The Same? – OpEd

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By Arash Zahedi

In Russia, the once again President Putin takes to the country’s highest seat of power in an election whose results were no secret to any one even before it was actually held.

It was known firstly because the other contenders, except for one, were barely players within the same league as Putin’s. Also the economic prosperity Russians from almost all walks of lives experienced after his first Presidency in 2000 as well as the national image that many believe was restored after the collapse of the ex-Soviet Union only during the Putin era could be listed among the reasons why the belief ‘Putin win before election’.

What is not known at this point, however, and only the matter of speculation is in which direction Putin’s Russia will be heading after his victory ceremony spirit subsides. Will he be the same ex-KGB officer who boasted about his aggressiveness and short temper as a youngster, once he was chosen as President the first time, comments which were observed by some as absolutely necessary for the Russia international standing in year 2000? Or is he going to pose even stronger? Is it again the natural resources of Russia that will lead him through meeting the promises he has made to the Russian middle class in the course of his campaign? Is it basically ‘Putin as usual’ in Russia or an overhauled Putin era that will see a bumpy ride this time around?

These are only a few in an array of questions that occur to many these days.

Of course, issues like the Russian foreign policy, especially with regards to the West, the US in particular, should not be allowed to slip from the radar. The US has had many troubles over the implementation of its missile shield in eastern Europe due to the Russian ‘worries’ under the more calm and collected version of Putin, President Medvedev, who is often criticized for not being aggressive enough. The way things will turn for the US foreign policy with regards to Russia, especially over the missile shield under Putin model 2012 will not be easy to handle.

Issues regarding the Syrian crisis and the way they have been observed in Moscow will as well turn thornier as long as Putin is President. Russia, who many believe was primarily governed by Putin even as prime minister, will not give up on its stance with regards to the power in Damascus. It is, many believe, unlikely that Moscow gives Syria, what they call the same shrugging, it gave to Libya.

Within the country, what Russia’s number one man will probably have to encounter is street protests same in kind as the ones in December last year. He was accused by his opponents of vote fraud even before the election began. However, if one lives in Russia, at least in his heart, admits Putin has the support of at least half of people and the potential voters if not 64 percent of them.

But that will not be the only reason for possible protest and ensuing unrest. Some are openly against the Putin style handling of the economy. Among their arguments is that the country is too dependent on its natural resources, oil and gas to be exact. But the fact of the matter is that Russia is becoming more industrial by the day and the number of its educated population is growing. Bear in mind that it was under the same governing system that the purchasing power of the Russians almost quadrupled in 7 years after 2000 as the inflation subsided from around 37 percent to a little more than 4 percent during the same period.

One key element of Putin’s campaign this time was depicting himself as generally anti-Western policies. As threatening as he may sound to his Western counterparts, he may as well risk losing some trust at home in the eyes of those who want to see Russia move forward and not backward into its old Soviet era mindset. Putin of course detects such threats and walks on a path that will keep him in a safe distance from such fears.

The issue of political freedoms and the stifling of free media have been put forward as another challenge to his leadership. People like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his imprisonment issue since 2003 are not forgotten inside as well outside Russia. To stay safe, Putin is going to have to address issues of such concerns one way or another. By announcing that he will appoint Dmitry Medvedev as his future Prime Minister, Putin has already endorsed some of the reforms of December 22.

There are signs, as the case was brewing with Bush/Clinton family names at the helm in the US, that some Russians, too, are growing frustrated to see the transfer of power between the names, Putin and Medvedev. The educated class may even see this as an insult to its intellect. The way for Putin not be perceived in this manner is implementing the changes he says are needed in Russia and meeting a greater portion of his campaign promises.

To be perfectly honest, whether the odds are in favor of seeing an old style or a modern Putin era in Russia from this point onwards will take one with a crystal ball but one thing is for certain. Times have changed and so have many governing methods around the world. It is, undoubtedly, the Russian president elect’s political, social and economic changes that would determine how long his name will be actively heard in the Russian as well as the world’s political scene in the years to come.

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