Moscow: The days after

Posted in Russia | 18-Mar-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

It came to nobody’s surprise in Russia that the old President Vladimir Putin became the new one, too. He got almost exactly the result of about 70 percent that he had declared were his objective beforehand. Now, he has a strong mandate for his second – and probably last - term.

WSN Editor-in-Chief Dieter Farwick on the Red Square: "For 70 percent of the Russians Putin quarantees a better life"
The assessment of the OSCE that the elections were less than democratic is true but irrelevant for the majority in Russia. For them - having no democratic experience and memory in their hearts and minds - President Putin is the guarantor of a better life than they had before. Only a minority with higher expectations and demands are frustrated and pessimistic about the future of Russia.

To be fair to Vladimir Putin, one should note that he would have won any kind of election. His system of "guided democracy" or "dictatorship of the law" has been widely accepted. Asking for the reasons for his acceptance you get mixed answers. It seems that Putin is able to please very different audiences. He seems to serve as a mirror for the groups or individuals in discussions with him. Putin tells people what they want to hear. In addition, Russians realize that he is a good ambassador of the country abroad.

What do the Russians expect for the next years to come? More of the same. Based upon high revenues from energy exports, Putin can mitigate domestic problems. Chechnya is not a hot issue for the Russian majority. They know that there is no quick solution and accept that they have to suffer more casualties.

The success of Putin can be seen in the streets of Moscow: new buildings, traffic jams caused by newly bought cars and Western style clothing. Travel agencies offer the same trips around the world as the agencies in New York or London. The restaurants are full and not only with the "newly rich."

What should the West do with Russia in these circumstances? Georgi Arbatov, the mastermind of the Soviet and Russian foreign policy told me that "the West should not ignore the wrongdoings" of Putin's regime. We should for example criticize the violation of human rights, the suppression of the media and the state influence in the economy.

We should do so to motivate a minority in Russia to aim for a new quality of political life in Russia. That might be easier outside Moscow in cities like Krasnodar or Nizhny Novgorod. There seems to be a better chance to develop a new political culture and a new political class. The more federal Russia would become the greater are the chances for a positive development. On a second track we have to execute "Realpolitik" and try to pull Russia closer to the West. The European culture is attractive and not only to the older people. Let's exploit the chances we still have.