Since 1999 there has been only one name in Russian politics that means anything: Vladimir Putin. Following his meteoric rise to the presidency he has been one of the major players on the world stage. He has helped to bring Russia’s economy under control, and has brought a degree of stability to a country that has had problems ranging from uprisings in the Northern Caucuses area, to economic instability.
While no one can accuse Russia of being the greatest champion for democracy since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, they had been steadily trying to feel their way out of the Communist fog and toward the light of freedom. When Putin became president of Russia however, that progress slowed. Things were not going well for the country, and the people were looking for someone to give them a reason to be proud to be Russian again. Putin was their man. He wanted Russia to be a world leader in every sense of the word. During his first administration he was able to radically improve the tax codes and many of the laws. Also, the health of the national economy improved dramatically. The people loved him.
As he moved into his second term as president, Putin began to steadily bring more and more power back to the government. There began to be reports that the press was being encouraged to take specific views on various topics. Many local government positions became appointed offices, rather than elected ones. Putin also began to be more antagonistic towards the United States. He wanted us to know that he was important and that Russia was not going to just follow the United States’ lead. One way that he did this was by threatening to use Russia’s veto power in the United Nations to stop several actions that the United States wanted to be passed.
As Putin’s second presidential term ended, many began to wonder if there would be truly democratic elections. It soon became obvious that Dmitry Medvedev, the front runner, was nothing more than a place holder for Mr. Putin, while he continued to hold all of the real power. During the following years we allowed ourselves to believe that maybe, just maybe, we had been wrong. That Putin was merely grooming Medvedev to lead the country as he had done; that perhaps Putin was content to run things quietly from the background. With the announcement last month that Putin will be “running” for president again next year, and that Medvedev will be taking over as Prime Minister, it has become painfully obvious that we were completely wrong.
Vladimir Putin has no intention of leaving the world stage any time soon. Apparently he is also less concerned with keeping the façade of democracy in place than he once was. Russia is his, and he does not seem to care what other nations think about that. With the length of the presidential term extended to six years, we could very well see Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia until 2024. There are some interesting years ahead. Will Putin be content with the way things are already running in Russia and the world? Or does he have new plans to shake things up both domestically and internationally? Only time will tell.