Putin’s landslide victory: An opportunity for reform

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

President Putin’s victory opens the door for a more technocratic government with the economic dossiers handled by competent liberal professionals.

Vladimir Putin has won a landslide victory in the presidential elections March 14 2004, as expected. There is no doubt that the elections were far from being perfectly democratic. In the run up to the polls, the incumbent unscrupulously drew on the vast administrative and media resources, having silenced down most of his opponents well in advance.

However, there is also nuo doubt that Vladimir Putin’s victory perfectly mirrors his unprecedented rating. Arguably, he could have scored even better if had he bothered to set forth his political agenda for the next term. Many in the democratic camp refused to vote quoting unfair competition and lack of transparency in Putin’s views. It is unclear what Putin II is going to do about Russia’s economy, healthcare, education and whether he is willing to seek a political solution to the Chechen conflict.

There are some useful clues though. Putin’s new government is more technocratic and less politically engaged than the previous one. The economic portfolios are in the hands of competent professionals with moderately liberal views. With such government and no opposition in parliament, Putin may push through his economic reforms if he wishes to do so.

Putin’s fresh mandate gives him a free hand to combat corruption in the state sector and to reform the armed forces. It boosts his powers to confront the siloviki (high ranking members of the military and intelligence community), who have stakes in freezing the Chechen conflict.

As regards foreign policy, Putin emphasized in his post-speech, so far little noticed in the west, that “Russia would not allow itself to slide into confrontation or aggressive methods of pursuing its national interests”. “We would demonstrate flexibility and seek compromises acceptable to us and our partners”, he went on to say.

For the EU it means that Russia might become a more predictable partner, that it would comply with its international obligations and cooperate in seeking solutions to frozen conflicts in the common “near abroad” (i.e. in the Caucasus and Moldova)

The appointment of Sergei Lavrov as minister of Foreign affairs seems to back the theory that Russia will be more flexible towards the outside world. Career diplomat with 17 years of experience in the US at top jobs, Mr.Lavrov writes poems and is reputed to uphold liberal etatist views.

The first litmus test of Russia’s flexibility is due to come in the next few days. Moscow will be compelled to take a stand over the escalating conflict between Georgia and its runaway province Ajaria. The latter has so far defied Tbilisi, relying up to a point on Russia’s support.


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