Sunday, March 2, 2008

Putin's Dictator Status is Secure

With Medvedev attaining 70% of the Russian vote, the Russian system (and mostly even the people) has given Putin a full mandate to act as dictator. As Prime Minister of a parliament with more than 2 out of 3 seats occupied by his party (United Russia), he can pass any legislature that he chooses. And Medvedev, Putin's long-time Protoge, at the helm of the Presidency, Putin is likely to have full executive support for his plans. At this point, there remain approximately zero political institutions that can challenge him, barring any strange Russian Constitutional Law precedents that I am (admittedly grossly) unaware of.

Medvedev has, of course, been called a "puppet" of Putin, and it may well be true. He has openly offered to step down after 4 years and allow Putin to resume another potentially 8-year-term in 2012, pushing Putin's reign to 20 years. At this point, Putin represents Russia's future, and he has great leeway. Despite clear rigging in the Parliamentary election (Chechnya allegedly voted, at 99% turnout, for United Russia by a margin of more than 90% over any other party) and highly suspicious deaths of anti-Kremlin forces, he remains extremely popular, due largely to Russia's economic growth and Putin's tough stance to the West. He is Time's Person of the Year for a reason.

Twelve more years of Putin means the US is going to just have to get used to him. Is a new Cold War coming? Unlikely. Putin is tough, but he respects other tough statesmen, and is willing to work with them. The EU still towers over Russia both economically and militarily, and, as we addressed earlier, more and more Russian satellite countries are flocking to NATO. But now, it is time to be ready for Putin's Russia. And for most of us in the US, including me, step one is figuring out what that even means.