Curiously, amongst the welter of western criticism about the conduct of the Russian presidential election on Sunday, there is no voice calling for an annulment of the result. The criticism is about “irregularities”, whilst admitting that the result of the election itself is not in doubt. In short, although the cooking is over and the dish is ready to be served at the table, the pot must continue to sizzle in low flame.
In fact, 10 Downing Street did an extraordinary thing by endorsing
Vladimir Putin’s election victory as “a decisive result.” The British Prime Minister David Cameron later telephoned Putin. Cameron said he hoped to work with Putin to “overcome the obstacles” in UK-Russia ties (which are in a state of chill) and build “deeper political and trade links.”
The British gesture ostentatiously distanced London from the protests on Moscow streets. Cameron certainly tried to figure out
early enough what’s on Putin’s mind. (He would share his impression later with Barack Obama.)
Specifically, Syria was discussed by Cameron (and German chancellor Angela Merkel who too phoned Putin). The western media is openly speculating
that now that he is no more campaigning rhetorically, Putin would be amenable to the Western thrust for ‘regime change’ in Damascus. It’s a clever ploy but won’t work with Putin.
The coming weeks will be crucial in setting the tempo of Putin’s forthcoming presidency. While president Dmitry Medvedev will be notionally in charge for the next 3-month period, Putin’s imprimatur will be seen in each and every Kremlin move.
The West will be taunting the Kremlin over the continuing protests. The West senses that Putin’s authority has been challenged and his power weakened to an extent. Paradoxically, the election showed Putin’s continuing popularity while at the same time revealing that he won’t be able to rule Russia as before.
Putin’s challenge is to strike a balance amidst the continuing Western attempts to splinter national unity. Disruptive street protests may become the order of the day, leaving the Kremlin with a great dilemma at some point in a near future to live with social turbulence or to draw a line.
Woven into this is Putin’s capacity to advance political reform amidst opposition from entrenched interests within the system. Also, political turbulence doesn’t exactly provide the conducive setting for advancing the ambitious program of economic regeneration.
On the other hand, stagnation in the economy breeds social apathy and resentment, which, in turn, fuels political disaffection. A silver lining will be that oil prices may remain high
, which would provide cushion for social spending.
In sum, Russia’s geopolitical tussle with the West has taken on the coloring of a discord
over the practice of democracy. (Many Russians who are genuinely protesting don’t realise this.) However, Putin has seen far worse times — like when Boris Yeltsin handed over the reins.
If Putin consolidates, it will be good for India-Russia relations. Which is why I’m surprised not to see the name of our prime minister figuring in the list of world statesmen who felicitated Putin. Maybe, the gloom over the impending deluge from Uttar Pradesh paralysed the Delhi darbar.