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the russian front: The Logic of Putins Third Term

Published: November 23, 2011 (Issue # 1684)


The smart money says that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be president from 2012 to 2024. He will be 72 in 2024 and probably will not be up for castling with some amiable stooge until he is 78 and eligible to be president yet again.

During his first six-year term, from 2012 to 2018, Putin will go from age 60 to 66. At his peak, vigorous and experienced, he will be aware that this is the time for him to make his mark.

It is true, of course, that some leaders turn in remarkable performances at an even later age. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was in his mid-60s when World War II started, but he was invigorated by that challenge in a way that peacetime never could have done.

Ronald Reagan was 70 when first elected U.S. president in 1980, but he was new to the job. When Putin is 70, he will already be into his fourth term. That does not mean he will have lost his appetite for retaining power, but the chances of Putin striking out on any new, bold course in his fourth and probably last term are slight at best. His upcoming 2012-18 term will be the one that matters most.

When Putin first became president, he inherited a country weakened by 10 years of chaos and crises that were not in the least of his making. In this respect, Putin to some degree resembles U.S. President Barack Obama of early 2009. But the Russia that Putin inherited from Boris Yeltsin in 2000 and the Russia he passed on to President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 were two very different places. It is the difference between poverty and prosperity, chaos and stability.

There is considerable disagreement over how important a role Putin actually played in that transformation. For example, the man Obama has nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, currently special assistant to Obama for national security, takes a dubious view of Putins role. Recall his 2008 Foreign Affairs comment, The Myth of the Authoritarian Model: How Putins Crackdown Holds Russia Back.

But what counts now is the difference between the Russia Putin received from Yeltsin and the one he is receiving back from Medvedev. Putin will begin his third presidential term from a position of strength, stability and prosperity. Russia has no outstanding important conflicts. Even the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 did not lead to Georgias blocking Russias entrance into the World Trade Organization. Russia has begun to attract considerable foreign investment again for example, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola and Disney.

Although a few attractive figures exist among the opposition, such as the gadfly blogger Alexei Navalny and the imprisoned former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, there is really no one on the political horizon who could pose the slightest real threat to Putin in a free and fair election in March. And the price of oil remains high.

Thus, all conditions are favorable for Putin to do something of real significance in his third term. He must choose between being a long-term leader of no enduring positive significance and a genuine statesmen who peered into the future, saw the dangers facing his country and steered a true and beneficial course. Russia needs major reforms in politics, the judiciary and media, and the economy must be diversified.

Putin has the power, authority and opportunity to carry out these reforms, but will he do it? Ask the smart money.

Richard Lourie is the author of The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin and Sakharov: A Biography.





 

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 3


Although thesand sculptures at the Peter and Paul Fortress are more centrally located and therefore more visible to the throngs of tourists, the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburgs own collection closes today so fans of the classic beach activity should get there while they can.



Thursday, Sept. 4


Vladimir I. Danchenkov, Head of Baltic Customs, will be in attendance during AmChams Customs and Transportation Committee Meeting convening this afternoon at the organizations office near St. Isaacs Square at 3 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 5


Scrabble lovers and chess masters get their chance to assert their intellectual dominance at the return of the British Book Centers Board Game Evenings tonight. Held weekly on Friday nights, the event gives both board game lovers and those hoping to improve their English the chance to meet, greet and compete. Check out the centers VK page for more details.



Saturday, Sept. 6


Athletes will relish the chance to get the latest gear and try out something new at I Choose Sport, an annual event at Lenexpo forum that plans to welcome more than 30,000 people this week to the international exhibition center. Not only will visitors get to try their hand at various athletic endeavors but they will also be able to peruse equipment that can fulfill their dreams of becoming a champion.


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg open their season this evening at home against Lokomotiv Yarovslavl at the Ice Palace arena next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. See their website for a full schedule and available tickets.



Sunday, Sept. 7


Check out retro and antique cars at Fort Konstantin on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland at FORTuna, a yearly car festival that highlights the eccentricities of the Soviet automobile industry. A car race, contests and a stunt show will give visitors a chance to rev their engines.



Monday, Sept. 8


This evening marks the opening of the two-week ballet festival High Season at the Mikhailovsky Theater. Check the theaters website for more details about performances and featured dancers.



Tuesday, Sept. 9


Discuss the latest news and issues at the AmCham Hazardous Waste Management Roundtable this morning in the Tango Conference Hall of the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Birzhevoy Pereulok. Starting at 9 a.m., planned topics include the Krasny Bor landfill and waste transportation between Russia and Finland.


Learn more about the citys modern architectural trends at the SPIBA Real Estate and Construction Committees meeting on the topic Contemporary Petersburg Style: What is It? Participants will get the chance to discuss whats in-demand with RBI Holdings Irina Petrova and Lubava Pryanikova, and the current state of the local real estate market. Please confirm your attendance by Sept. 5 through SPIBAs website if you wish to attend.



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