Putin’s re-election can hurt Russia’s long-term interests
India is concerned about whether he can stem the gradual but steady decline of Russian powereditorials Updated: Mar 20, 2018 09:02 IST
The least surprising political victory of the year would have to be the re-election of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia for another six-year term. Putin had banned most of his opposition from running for office and may have ordered the assassination of dissidents overseas. However, it is also true that Putin is genuinely popular with many Russians and may have won even without these heavy-handed tactics. The greater concern for countries like India is whether Putin can stem the gradual but steady decline of Russian power. Unlike most Western countries, New Delhi supports a powerful, independent Russia and sees this as important to the development of a multipolar global order. Putin was able to bring an end to the post-Soviet economic chaos that engulfed Russia and gave Russians a sense of that superpower status they once had. But he was assisted by the oil and gas price surge of the 2000s. Putin’s failure was to use this period of plenty to invest in Russia’s ageing industrial plant, funnel his people’s intellectual abilities into high-technology sectors and otherwise lay the seeds for a sustained Russian revival. He poured billions into the country’s armaments and energy sectors. However, the brightest minds of Russia were more likely to be found in the City of London or Silicon Valley than in Moscow. That Russia required the technical expertise of United States firms to exploit the oil and gas reserves of offshore Siberia was telling.
The politics of Putin the past few years has been about constructing a popular narrative that ensured his people rallied round him even as the country’s hydrocarbon earnings began falling. His politics has been remarkably successful. Taking over a bit of the Ukraine – which most Russians see as historically theirs, deliberately provoking the US and Europe by interfering in their politics, and conceding economic suzerainty of Central Asia to China has allowed him to blame Western hostility for his economic failures and political regression.
Yet there is a short-sightedness about much of this. As many of these policies have been designed to help Putin stay in power, they have been at the cost of Russia’s own long-term interests. Russia’s GDP today is half of that of India’s and continues down a path of relative decline. Moscow’s closeness to Beijing has meant greater distance from New Delhi. Putin has another six years to change course. But he now faces a much more difficult environment than before. The odds are he will continue a path of mild repression, provocative nationalism and minimal economic reform. This is good for Putin, but not so good for Russia.