While Western officials have cautiously left the final choice of Russia’s leader to the people of Russia, Western media have been speculating what kind of change Vladimir Putin would bring if he indeed wins the upcoming presidential poll.
Saturday put an end to the main intrigue concerning the approaching parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia, as the political party holding two-thirds in Russia’s current parliament announced their candidates for president and prime minister respectively.
As the chairman of United Russia’s Supreme Council confirmed in Sunday’s media conference, their parliamentary list will be headed by the incumbent president, Dmitry Medvedev, while the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, will run for the presidency.
The subdued reaction which followed from Western officials revealed polite indifference to who will lead the country after March 2012, with Germany referring to the news as “Russia’s internal affairs” and the USA willing to continue “the reset” regardless of who will appeal to the Russian people.
But the Financial Times newspaper believes that Putin’s presidential comeback could mar relations with Washington, as Russia and the USA pushed “the reset” button mostly “due to a good personal relationship between Mr. Medvedev and US President Barack Obama.”
This stance has already been refuted by Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who said on Sunday that such “claims reveal that many Western politicians do not understand what is happening in Russia.”
Overall, the greatest surprise expressed by the Western press over the announcement comes from the news having been made public so early. The candidacy was quite predictable, while President Medvedev’s role is played down to a mere “placeholder,” reads the Deutsche Welle website.
“Four years ago, [Putin] couldn’t run again for president because of term limit rules. But, he needed a formal placeholder who enabled him to keep his hand firmly in politics. Putin assigned this role to Medvedev,” added Deutsche Welle.
Though the formal elections have not yet taken place, in the view of many outlets Vladimir Putin has already won not one, but two consecutive terms. In this case, Putin would stay in power till he is 72.
“Now he can come back, if he chooses, until 2024. This would make him Russia’s longest-serving ruler,” says the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Many of the world’s press have descended into gloom, questioning the prospects for democracy and civil society in Russia. The Observer newspaper editors, their hearts heavy with black days to come, suggest Russia might be “slipping from democracy back towards autocracy.”
At least financial markets could gain something from this Groundhog Day in Russia’s politics. The Moscow Times, citing “five reasons for investors to cheer Putin’s return”, actually recommends grasping the possibility of uncertainty being over, with some stability lying ahead.
“Hope is growing for further improvement in the investment climate,” reads the paper. “No matter where Medvedev lands, investors can hope that he will be in a position to push ahead with the modernization and anti-corruption agenda that he has made the hallmark of his presidency.”
But The Financial Times argues the benefits would spread only in the short term.
Relations with US depend on American presidential polls
Gerhard Mangott, professor of Political Science at Innsbruck University, thinks that relations between Moscow and Washington largely depend on the results of the American presidential relations.
He believes that Vladimir Putin would not wish to return Russian-Western relations to their previously tense state.
“When Putin left his presidency, the relations were very strained. He was quite aggressive externally. Putin would try to continue quite pragmatically the initiatives Medvedev started in his office,” he told RT.
Professor Mangott did go on to strike a note of caution though:
“However, there is a very big question mark of who is going to win the elections in the US next year. If it is the case that some part of the Republican Party takes the helm, then I do expect that relations will deteriorate.”
Mangott also warned that the future president of Russia will have to tackle tough economic issues, with the country’s budget deficit about to rise despite oil and gas revenues. He stressed this would require a different economic and political course – and a young professional team.
Ricardo Young, political analyst for ‘Voice of Russia’ radio station, believes that if Vladimir Putin wins the upcoming presidential election, he is unlikely to change his style as a leader of Russia.
“I do not think he needs to change his style at this point,” he said. “He has been very consistent in showing himself as a very strong, decisive leader and he certainly has done the same with his protégée, President Medvedev, and this is the kind of political intelligence, this is the kind of smarts that I think people respect whether in Russia or the US.”