Photo: Putin addressing the Federal Assembly on 1 March 2018. The presentation was attended, among others, by State Duma deputies, members of the Government, leaders of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, the leaders of traditional religions, public figures, as well as the leaders of major media outlets. Credit: Russian President's Website - Photo: 2018

The Importance of Putin and Russia’s Presidential Election

By Somar Wijayadasa

Somar Wijayadasa, a former UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly and Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations, has been a frequent visitor to Russia since 1962 when the then Soviet Union “was a proud nation with a thriving economy, marvels of industrialization, advances in science, technology and medicine, escapades into outer space, and basking in the glory of a Super Power.” – The Editor

NEW YORK (IDN) – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is seeking re-election in the upcoming Presidential vote on March 18.

In Russia, a president is elected for six years with a two consecutive term limitation. Putin held the office of president for two terms from 2000 to 2008, served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012, and won a third term as president in 2012. Terms were extended from four to six years in 2008.

There are eight mediocre candidates seeking the presidency including three who have previously contested against Putin.

A new comer, Ksenia Sobchak, a 36 year old media mogul is the daughter of Anatoly, a former Mayor of St. Petersburg who brought Putin from obscurity into politics. She criticizes corrupt cronies around Putin and calls the annexation of Crimea illegal.

Putin’s most vocal critic, Alexei Navalny, who has staged many demonstrations against him and those in power has been barred from running for president over a criminal conviction that he says is politically motivated. Navalny is asking his supporters to boycott the election.

All candidates complain about government corruption, lack of economic growth, low living standards, rising poverty levels, and high cost of living. Some complain about Putin’s efforts to glorify Stalin, declare Czar’s family as martyrs, and for unduly suppressing dissent.

But none can defeat Putin who enjoys an approval rating of over 80 percent. If reelected, he will be Russia’s second longest serving leader, trailing only Joseph Stalin’s 30-year reign.

Putin is a master strategist who has selected March 18 (Anniversary of the annexation of Crimea) for his re-election. Also, on March 1, he delivered his annual State-of-the-Nation address to the Federal Assembly, in which he passionately outlined his domestic and foreign policy priorities.

The chaotic downfall of Russia

When I first visited Moscow in 1962, the former Soviet Union was a proud nation with a thriving economy, marvels of industrialization, advances in science, technology and medicine, escapades into outer space, and basking in the glory of a Super Power. 

Later as a frequent visitor to Russia every two years, I witnessed the dramatic sea change of its political leadership and their successes and failures.

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

After years of stagnation under sclerotic leaders, the situation worsened as Mikhail Gorbachev’s political freedoms openness and reconstruction” paved way for open criticism of the communist regime.

That caused the disintegration of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991 – that Putin described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Later, Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) embraced free market principles, and eliminated price controls, privatized major state assets, and allowed for the ownership of private property.

That resulted in a few well-connected people grabbing State properties and becoming wealthy “oligarchs”. The reforms failed and drove Russians deeper into poverty.

When I visited Moscow in 1996, it was heartbreaking to see the downfall of Russia. I noticed that bribery, corruption and criminality have penetrated the entire state apparatus and businesses. Foreign Investors were fleeing the Russian market.

There was food rationing, salaries and pensions unpaid, rampant crime and gang rivalry were the norm. Russian politics, economy, military and society were in complete disarray, and by 1998, a third of Russia’s population was below the poverty line. 

Western countries vilified Yeltsin for his antics and slurring on television, and his regime brought outright disgrace to Russia. In August 1998, Russian government was officially bankrupt having devalued the ruble, and defaulted on its debt.

Finally, on December 31, 1999, Yeltsin resigned, and handed over to Vladimir Putin – a run-down military and a bankrupt Russia in a deep recession and complete chaos.

Putin’s efforts to “Make Russia Great Again”

Election of Putin as President, in 2000, was Russia’s first democratic transfer of power.

Making economic stability a cornerstone of his leadership, Putin gradually began to inject law and order into the society; signed into law a series of liberal economic reforms; developed the economy with new industries and investments; decreased poverty by boosting agricultural production and construction; and increased workers’ salaries and pensions of poor pensioners who silently suffered for decades. 

To stabilize the economy, he introduced a flat tax rate, reduced corporate taxes, and established a stabilization fund to accumulate oil revenue to repay all of Russia’s debts. Later the fund was split into the Reserve Fund to protect Russia from future financial crisis, and the National Welfare Fund to enhance pension reforms. 

But the last 17 years of Putin’s rule has been an unprecedented balancing act of consolidating his own power while reviving Russia’s economy, and protecting the country from foreign interference. 

During his previous election in 2012, there were hundreds of massive anti-Putin political protests all over Russia. 

Fearing that foreign-funded NGO’s are fomenting revolution in Russia through the distribution of grants to political groups, the Russian government adopted stringent NGO legislation such as the “Foreign Agents” law, the “Undesirable NGOs” law, and ousted from Russia several foreign NGO’s including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

As Putin once said: “The path towards a free society has not been simple. There are tragic and glorious pages in our history”.

External pressures to destabilize Russia

Having failed the eternal desire of Western countries to capture Russia and its vast resources – a dream that Napoleon and Hitler failed – now wants at least to destabilize and dismantle Russia into several parts as it did in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the U.S. and EU imposed a barrage of sanctions on Russia that continue to date – too many to describe.

On alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election, there have been several reciprocal diplomatic reprisals in the closure of compounds and expelling diplomats.

In February 2018, Washington released a list (that looks like a “who’s who book”) of 114 senior politicians close to Putin, and 96 Russian oligarchs with a net worth of more than $1 billion – though without specific sanctions on them.

These destabilizing actions have inflicted an economic toll on Russia even though Putin said that these have failed to “defang” and “declaw” Russia. 

Perhaps aimed at the hostile West, Putin once said, “Russia will continue moving forwards, and nobody will ever be able to stop this forward movement.”

Unrivaled military power

Russia’s unrivaled military complex that has been a great power for centuries thanks to its once-mighty Russian army has been revamped to its former glory. 

In his speech on March 1, Putin revealed that the Russian Armed Forces adopted over 300 new pieces of military equipment over the last six years. 

Among those are a number of “invincible” defense systems including a new prototype missile that can reach any point in the world, a supersonic weapon that cannot be tracked by anti-missile systems, and a new hypersonic aviation and missile system.

Saying that Russia had to build new weapons to counter the potential threat posed by the U.S. missile defense system, Putin said, “No one has listened to us. You listen to us now.”

Putin’s Foreign Policy

Putin has been critical of foreign policies of the United States and other Western countries. 

In a 2014 speech, Putin said: “Our Western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.”

Putin abhors external pressure and would not change his foreign policy to please the United States or Western countries. He advocates a multi-polar world and a bigger role of the United Nations to enhance global security. 

He has often said that “we do not want confrontation: we want to engage in dialogue but a dialogue that acknowledges the equality of both parties’ interests”. This could be the premise for United States and Western nations to form better relations with Russia.

Russia and Putin would prevail

Contrary to Putin’s opponents complaints, the Russian economy is improving again – thanks to Russia’s increasing oil production, stabilizing oil prices, improvements in the military-industrial complex, and growth in its agricultural sector.

During my visits to Moscow and its suburbs during the last few years, I found that the quality of life is even better than in the 1960’s. 

The streets and parks are clean and safer than ever, massive department stores, cafes and restaurants everywhere, which means that the private businesses and the middle class are thriving, and that people are prosperous and happier.

In his impressive speech March 1, Putin promised to further diversify the Russian economy, improve education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure, and attract more foreign investment.

Russians have an infinite love for their country, and they love a strong leader who would not only develop the country but also zealously protect Russia from foreign intervention. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 March 2018]

Related link: Putin’s Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018.

Photo: Putin addressing the Federal Assembly on 1 March 2018. The presentation was attended, among others, by State Duma deputies, members of the Government, leaders of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, the leaders of traditional religions, public figures, as well as the leaders of major media outlets. Credit: Russian President’s Website

IDN is the flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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