PUTIN'S CHOICE: A COMMENT
"Yet a new Putin presidency is nonetheless a retrograde and risky step. Mr Medvedev has firmly embraced, at least verbally, the modernising political and economic agenda that Russia sorely needs. While he failed to build his own political team or support base – crucial omissions – he associated himself with advisers of like mind. A second term as president could have provided the opportunity finally to consolidate his position and start delivering reforms, especially if Mr Putin’s influence had begun to fade. The former president’s lingering authority has always stemmed in part from the possibility of his return. Mr Putin has, by contrast, shown little appetite for modernising reforms, or much understanding of their urgency. His instincts are cautious, conservative. But the stability he promised in the first years of his presidency after the chaotic post-Soviet transition of the 1990s has turned, over time, into a straitjacket that is hampering Russia’s development.
If it is to return to the 5 per cent-plus annual growth it needs to catch up with the world’s advanced economies, Russia must allow more competition of ideas and policies, and reduce the state’s distorting role in the economy. It must tackle the corruption that is corroding the Russian system from within. It has to replace “managed” democracy with the institutions of genuine pluralism. Mr Putin may yet surprise the doubters by moving in this direction. But that would mean dismantling central elements of the very system he put in place in his previous eight-year presidency.
If Mr Putin does shrink from reform at home, however, he risks sowing the seeds of his own downfall. Stirrings of disillusionment are starting to show up in pollsters’ research. These may not be strong enough to prevent the Kremlin from managing the transition of power. But unaddressed they are likely to multiply. A whole generation of Russians has reached voting age that was not born when communism collapsed. This generation gets its news not from Kremlin-controlled television but from an internet which, unlike China, Russia has never censored. Russia’s next president should take account of such shifts. Otherwise, like Arab counterparts, he could yet discover the power of social networks – and of the street".
Leader, "Putin votes for the return of Putin." The Financial Times.
27 September 2011, in www.ft.com.
"We can assume that there will be no movement forward if there are not serious changes along the lines of a replacement of the entire system...Without this, we could lose six years. I think the future president needs to think about this very seriously."
Former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev quoted in "Russian Minister quits after Presidential Clash." Deutsche Welle. 27 September 2011, in www.dw-world.de.
"The cemetries of the world are full of [once] indispensable men."
Charles de Gaulle.
The return to both de jure as well as de facto power by current Russian Prime Minister, Vladmir Putin is as the Financial Times correctly points out, a retrograde step. There does not appear to be much in the way indications that Putin has any fresh or new ideas to reform the existing Russian state apparatus. An edifice which at this point in time, requires pretty much close to wholesale reform. There is every indication that Grazhdanin Putin feels that something close to the status quo ante is for the most part acceptable. Unfortunately, as the FT points out, unless and until Russia is able to regain trend-growth rates of at least five percent (5%) per annum, then the likelihood of Russia being able to escape what George Magnus has called the 'Middle-income trap', is pretty much non-existent 1. Instead we have a situation where the state is overly dependent upon resource exports for both funding its budget and for powering economic growth. Reform of the Russian state apparatus and economy does not necessarily mandate that 'Western-style' pluralistic democracy be adopted. The example of Singapore more than suffices as a pro-contra. What is required of Russia is (among other things): i) a true openness to foreign investment; ii) a clampdown on corruption; iii) heavy investment in the country's declining infrastructure; iv) sustained attempts to improve the lives of ordinary Russian people by increasing male longevity and reducing the ravages of alcoholism and violent crime. Sans reforms along these lines, there is not much hope that much will change in Russian by the time that Putin will retire from the political scene. Assuming of course that there is not a complete collapse of the state apparatus in the meantime `a la the FT's prediction in its leader above. Unfortunately, with Putin one is indeed reminded of nothing so much as the post-Napoleonic Bourbons: 'ils n'ont rient appris, ni rien oublie'.
1. George Magnus, "Through the BRIC Wall." George Magnus first published on 30 June 2011. www.georgemagnus.com.