Asian powers assess Putin’s electoral victory
The Russian press overwhelming warned of a tough road ahead for Putin in all reform areas including the Russian economy, foreign relations, and domestic politics.
There was near universal agreement that Putin will encounter many forthcoming challenges:
- Putin faces the daunting task of convincing “foreigners and Russians alike that Russia is not only a good place to live but a great place to invest,” says the Moscow Times. The editorial urges Putin to level the playing field for foreign investors, and to take action against government corruption.
- “The next government no longer has the luxury of relying on rising oil revenues to fund growth and buy internal stability…Russia’s economy needs a new growth driver,” says Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Troika Dialog.
- Alexei Makarkin, first vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, predicts that the government will respond to specific challenges on a case-by-case basis. “I don’t think the government will pursue a purely liberal or reactionary course,” Markarkin said. Rather, it willharden its policy in some areas and make concessions in others.
Commentators were mixed on the direction of Putin’s foreign policy:
- Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs weighed in, predicting relative continuity in Russia’s foreign policy and more emphasis on domestic affairs.
- Rising Powers Initiative Russia expert Andrew Kuchins takes a different view, arguing that because domestic political stability is Putin’s principal concern, he sees the United States as a threat to his sovereign rule. For the time being, Kuchins says that “Putin’s posture is a defensive anti-Americanism rather than hostile anti-American foreign policy. What’s certain though, is that the reset is over and Washington should prepare for a far more contentious relationship with Moscow.”
In many editorial circles, the focus is on the opposition’s future prospects:
- Konstantin Eggert, commentator and host for Russia’s first 24-hour news station Kommersant FM, believes that “The opposition organizing street protests- i.e. those, who officially do not exist as a political force” has seriously undermined Putin’s ability to rule unchallenged.
- Nikolai Petrov, scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center, adds that “the Kremlin has yet to adequately respond to the protestors’ demands. This probably means that the protests will increase in size and intensity.”
- A “weak opposition” gave Vladimir Putin the victory, says Mikhail Remizov, president of the National Strategy Institute. In order to maintain his victory, Putin will need to reckon with the opposition, perhaps by taking a “coalition approach to forming the government. Opposition figures whose activity embodies the messages that Putin was sending to his voters could be partners in a coalition.”
Interpretations of Putin’s victory echoed themes familiar to Chinese politics: stability and fighting corruption.
- The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that “Putin’s election victory reflects what most Russians want,” which is “stability and sustainable development.”
- Commenting on the post-election protests, People’s Daily senior editor Ding Gang wrote, “These protestors are mainly unhappy with the severe corruption in Russian society. …If Putin is determined to wake the Russian bear from hibernation, he has to come up with methods to tackle corruption.”
Several editorials in the party-owned press took issue with Western criticism of Russia’s democracy.
- “Finding fault with Russia’s democratic process is a way for the West to bring about splits in Russian society,” commented the Global Times.
- “Many Western observers…can’t accept that Putin was still able to win the ballot with so many votes. Emotionally, the West doesn’t want Putin to come back,” said Jiang Yi, deputy director of Russian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The geopolitical implications of Putin’s victory were also a main theme.
- Xinhua‘s analysis pointed to “stronger China-Russia ties,” noting that the two countries share similar views on a range of global issues.
- The aforementioned Jiang Yi, however, expressed a more reserved opinion: “I don’t think [China and Russia] will necessarily get closer after Putin comes back. The two will certainly continue their cooperation over some hot issues…[but] their calculations are still based on their own interests.”
- On the future of U.S.-Russia relations, Feng Yujun of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations said that “the improvements achieved during Medvedev’s presidency in Russia-US relations are likely to end,” and that “Putin should stay alert to U.S. interference in Russia’s internal affairs.”
Indian papers expressed mixed views on the prospects of democracy in Russia:
- The Times of India urged Putin to embark on real reform and liberalization: “This might appear counter-intuitive to Putin, but strong-arm tactics to maintain political stability are no longer feasible….Russia needs a new social contract between its people and the government. As Putin begins his third term, he must start thinking of his legacy.”
- The Indian Express, however, was more cynical, pointing to the “far worse” alternative of a Russia ruled by oligarchs. Therefore, the paper’s editorial predicted before the election that “this cynicism born of hopelessness is likely to ensure…that Putin returns as president of Russia.”
There was some analysis of geopolitical implications in The Hindu, which is generally skeptical of the West:
- “Mr. Putin returns as President at a time when Russia’s policy of “reset” with the United States has hit a roadblock….The crisis in Syria has strengthened Russia’s strategic ties with China, which jointly opposed regime change in Damascus, but placed India and Russia on different sides of the barricade. Re-establishing consensus within BRICS on issues like Syria must be a priority for both the new Russian President and the Indian leadership.”
Editorials hailed Putin’s victory as an opportunity to improve Russia-Japan relations. This was echoed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in a congratulatory phone call to Putin on Monday. Noda expressed hope for the “wise” resolution of the disputed Northern Territories between Japan and Russia.
- Citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s January 28 visit to Tokyo, Suzuki Yoshikatsu, Senior Commentator at Jiji Press asserts that his visit “helped dispel the acrimony hovering over Japan-Russia relations…basically resetting the bilateral relationship in advance of Prime Minister Putin’s return to the presidency.”