By: Abdul Wahab
Making Russia Great Again
Russian president Vladimir Putin has secured another six years in power after winning the presidential election held on March 18. In a widely expected win, Mr Putin secured 76.66% of the vote, while his nearest challengers, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky could garner only 13% and 6% of the vote, respectively. Putin supporters believe that the result demonstrates Russians’ high trust in and support for Mr Putin, opposition and independent monitors have called it a sham election amidst the reported cases of ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which observed the polls, said the election was conducted “in an orderly manner” but criticised irregularities related to vote secrecy and insufficient transparency in counting ballots. Notwithstanding the hullabaloo, Putin has gotten the election show he wanted. As he figures out what’s next, there is a greater likelihood that tensions with the West will soar to new heights, as is evident from the recent spy row with the United Kingdom and the ensuing tit-for-tat expulsion of the diplomatic staff.
Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia — and stronger place in the world — thanks to an overwhelming mandate for yet another term as president. His domestic opponents are largely resigned to another six years in the shadows. His foreign opponents are mired in their own problems, from Britain’s messy exit from the European Union to chaos and contradiction in the Trump administration.
Even widespread voting violations are unlikely to dent Putin’s armour. And accusations that he meddled in the US election and sponsored a nerve agent attack in Britain have only bolstered his standing at home.
Here’s a look at what to expect from Putin’s next six years in power, for Russia’s rivals, neighbours and its own 147 million citizens.
New Cold War?
Relations between Russia and the West are already at their lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union 26 years ago.
Despite a friendly-ish relationship with President Donald Trump, Putin’s new mandate gives him little incentive to seek entente with Washington, especially as the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election intensifies.
Putin-friendly leaders have made gains in recent Italian and German elections. Western countries are likely to see more Russia-linked hacking and propaganda aimed at disrupting elections or otherwise discrediting democracy — including the US midterm elections in November.
Since Putin’s domestic popularity bumps whenever he stands up to the West, expect more tough talk from Putin the next time he faces threats at home, and bolder Russian vetoes at the UN Security Council of anything seen as threatening Moscow’s interests. His claim several weeks ago that Russia has developed new nuclear weapons that can evade missile defences clearly showed Putin’s adamant determination to boost Russia’s power.
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