Putin, the challenger
is the cover story in the Dec. 9th The Economist:
As if Russia’s intervention in Ukraine were not enough, the Kremlin’s anti-western rhetoric has also risen. In an excess of hypocrisy even by Soviet standards, Mr Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have accused the West of meddling in Ukraine in order to destabilise the region (see article). This week Mr Lavrov attacked the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose monitors declared the Ukrainian election fraudulent three weeks ago. Mr Putin then widened the field of assault by criticising Iraq’s interim government and its plans to hold elections next month.
Another Economist article, Russia’s president, Vladimir III? explores Russia’s future in terms of Putin’s plans:
Mr Putin is emerging more and more as a tactician, not a strategist. Economic reform, for example, has stalled since high oil prices offered an easier path to growth. His commitment to democracy now looks to be a tactic too. He may not yet have decided what to do in 2008. Boris Nemtsov, co-founder of a committee set up to make sure he leaves on schedule, says that, if he does want to stick around, international obloquy would give him greater pause than domestic opinion. European and American leaders would react badly to a rejigging of the government, and with horror to a change in the constitution.
In private, though, they might be relieved. A genuine transfer of the president’s powers to a new man would be as perilous as it looks unlikely. Any challenge to Putinism would not come from the liberals, who were almost banished from the Duma at last year’s election. As Vyacheslav Nikonov, an analyst with Kremlin connections, points out, without much exaggeration, “Putin is more liberal than 95% of Russians”. Nor would it come from the waning Communist Party. The coming men in Russian politics are less democratic, more nationalistic and more worrying even than Mr Putin—a point he may want to emphasise to his western critics.