Editor’s Note: Gordon M. Hahn is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is also the author of Russia’s Islamic Threat.
By Gordon Hahn – Special to CNN
With news that Vladimir Putin will run for president in Russia, the media is destined to be filled with doom and gloom articles about Russia’s return to domestic totalitarianism and international imperialism. But there is no reason to panic. The return of Putin to the presidency will not necessarily be followed by a reversion to the harder line policies of Putin’s two previous presidential terms. Putin’s decision to run for the presidency and, upon his inevitable election, to appoint Medvedev as premier will most likely lead to more continuity than change from the Medvedev era.
It is important to remember that Medvedev’s policies have been, for the most part, Putin’s as well. None of Medvedev’s policies – efforts to reform the police, fight corruption, humanize prisons and sentencing rules, allow more opposition protests, reduce the ministries’ dominance in positions of power, apply more soft power in the North Caucasus, crackdown down on ultra-nationalists and organized crime, privatize state businesses, and seek more cooperation with Washington and other foreign capitals – could have initiated without Putin’s general support.
Nevertheless, with Putin as president, some changes might be in the offing. If Medvedev is Putin’s instrument for testing gradual reformism, then the former’s assumption ofRussia’s top economic post could mean that the promised large-scale privatization program could move to the forefront, taking precedence over political, police and legal reforms. Also, it cannot be rejected out of hand that Putin’s decision to assume the presidency is connected with his wish to place a firm hand on the helm of state as gradual reforms proceed. Just as ‘only Nixon could have gone toChina’, Putin may feel that only he can implement gradual liberalization and guarantee stability.
Putin’s return was surely dictated by other factors as well. His popularity ratings exceed Medvedev’s, diminishing the need or electoral cheating. In addition, there is the possibility that the Russian ship of state may be entering rougher waters. Both leaders’ popularity is declining as is that of their ruling United Russia Party. Global economic catastrophe beckons, and Russian may have to undertake tough austerity measures at some point after the elections. Pension reform and a vast overhaul of a cantankerous military establishment lie in the future as well. In addition, the Kremlin’s perceived need to tilt the electoral playing field - and if necessary pad the results in the upcoming Duma and presidential elections - raises the specter of a color or ‘birch’ revolution. The reaction to Putin’s candidacy and subsequent firing of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin are harbingers of the kind of instability the decision to rearrange the Putin-Medvedev tandem itself could spark both within the elite and subsequently in society at large.
Thus, Putin in the presidency may be seen as an insurance policy in the event the power ministries are needed to maintain order; Putin is more likely to be willing to call on them, and they in turn are more likely to remain loyal to Putin rather than Medvedev.
Foreign policy may be another story entirely - one fraught with more immediate dangers and less prospects for continuity. Although Putin surely kept his hand in foreign policymaking, he was somewhat removed from the process simply because Medvedev was the one who met and communicated with foreign leaders. Thus, Putin simply was not privy to all the information Medvedev had at his disposal. Putin could not retain full control over foreign affairs.
Putin’s full engagement with foreign policy, therefore, could bring change. Even more than in domestic policy, troubled waters abroad may have dictated Putin’s return. The Arab Spring, problems withMoscow’s two Slavic neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, the impending 2014 American drawdown in Afghanistan and the European Union’s meltdown all spell trouble for Moscow. Putin’s greater distrust of the West and great power orientation could make relations with the West testier and threaten the Obama Administration’s ‘reset’ policy. This would be especially true if a new U.S. administration takes a harder line vis-à-vis Moscow on issues like Russia’s authoritarian order and violations of human rights, nuclear cooperation with Iran, the Georgian impasse, arms control and missile defense.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Gordon M. Hahn.
Putin is a polished Khrushchev, thing big with little brain.
"if a new U.S. administration takes a harder line" ----- Russia/Putin will do whatever is in their interest. Like competing with China, America has no leverage.
In this case Putin is the lesser of two evils, the only real opposition party in Russia are the communists. Gennady Zyuganov the communist candidate for president has clearly stated on many occasions a desire to return Russia to Stalinism.
Under Putin Russia seem will go into a new power scenario,with strong technology,industry,resources and military on its own new status among future world powers in coming one or two decades,no more in cold-war dreams. If you think Chinese finance can manipulate Europe's crippled libral economy,Putin is in better position with oil,gas and its huge business market. America has used china-card to win cold-war,now it has to think about russia-card to enter new world power scenario,no more in cold-war ideas.
When did the US win? The cold war is still on, but the US is losing for sure....too much funding for military bases, there is no Russia or China card. The US just think it can use other countries, but in reality... when it can't take care of it's own citizens and political and social affairs, the sun is setting, again.
Don't mention winning or losing. USA has been losing money, a lot, whereas USSR collapsed. Who won? or has?
your reply isn't right at all. The cold war is over and if your to big of an idiot to realize that you got problems. Russia today and the USSR are two totally different countries. The USSR collapsed were as the US is still continuing. People like you who comment not knowing anything make me sick
Why all these worse case scenarios so soon – "if a new U.S. administration takes a harder line vis-à-vis Moscow".
True, Obama's and Medvedev's chemistry works. Maybe not so with Putin's! Let's hope that leaders would be more sensible and that the relationship between the American and the Russian people wouldn't be spoiled by politics.
Putin made very few friends during his years as president. He got on well with Gaddafi and the former German chancellor, the flamboyant Gerhard Schröder. As Schröder lost his seat to Angela Merkel, he got very soon a new job – as consultant for a project belonged to the Russian energy company Gazprom.
Hey, Bush loved Putin. He saw Putin's soul in his eyes.
Look into Bush's eyes and you will see a blank.
Obama - Medvedev chemistry worked for some time in sense that there are no major negative consequences
for both parties. It is overall sterilious in its outcome.
If the goal of foreign policy is to develop conditions for fruitful economic cooperation and trade, then relations
with US should not be the first, second or even third priority. Foreign relationships should be proportional to
economic relationship. By this standard Medveded (or Putin) should be permanently in bed with Angela Merkel,
and pay no attention to Obama. Putin fits better for this role. At least he speaks German fluently.
Dick Cheney in the Oval office since 2000. No reason to panic? The USA would be a different country.
Why to Panic? And why it is a big deal at the first place?
On the West people have no other choice but to consume whatever Ruppert Murdoch
cooks for them – inputs like "Medvedev is Putin's puppet" or "Putin is a
cold-blooded killer" or "Putin killed Litvinenko and Politkovskaya" or "Putin
is head of criminal organization" without offering any proof or even hinting
possible motives. Then come all these analysts, experts, political science
professors who pretend to be knowledgeable, but fail to see the obvious.
The obvious thing is that Medvedev has largely lost his credibility among the
Russian public. If expressed in a single word, it is due to his INCOMPETENCE.
Too many things went wrong during the last six month. Too many screw ups,
starting with non-vetoing UN resolution on Libya in March (Putin unambiguously
expressed that Russia should veto it; Russian Foreign ministry also recommended
veto; Medvedev forced them to abstain). Too many planes crashed in Russia, and
he was making quick judgments without waiting for the outcome of investigation
which in the end turned out to be wrong and unfair.
Finally, the latest (as of today) public blunder of Medvedev praising Zbignev
Brzezhinski for his "lifelong wisdom" – imagine 5-feet tall Medvedev standing
next to 6.5-feet tall Brzezhinski and telling how he admired Zbignev
Brzezhinski all his life.
Firing of finance minister Kudrin is too early to comment, but superficially
it appears as a conflict between a professional, fiscally responsible guy who
views the budgetary policy as a mathematical optimization problem and a
politician who just wants to make populist moves (such as raise pensions and
salaries to military, start expensive weapons projects which Russia cannot
afford, etc...) in order to get political bonuses before elections. Kudrin was
objecting all that saying that it will move the country's budget out of
balance, and eventually cause spiking inflation. (Kudrin's insubordination
cited by Medvedev as the reason for firing sounds like a joke - by the same
standard he should fire Putin six month earlier for a major incident of
insubordination about UN resolution.)
Reforms? More privatization? Judicial system? Who cares. In US people are
obscessed with election compains and watching court drama on TV (but privately hate to be called for jury duty). In Russia neither is part of national sport.
What is obvious at this moment is that Medvedev, if going to presidential
elections, has a real chance to loose to Communist Zuganov, while Putin is
in a much safer position to win.
Its interesting that you consider helping the Libyan rebels as a mistake. Why do you prefer Ghadaffi exactly?
What I prefer is stating the facts regardless of my own opinion: Putin openly expressed his disagreement and
was repriminded for that by Medveded (it looked funny, indeed). To save his face Medvedev backtracked several
times, saying that "the resolution is good, but western countries misinterpret it", which is of course total rubbish
because it was worded by the very same western countries specifically to be interpreted the way to allow them
to do exactly what they did.
And, oh yes, lets admit it, Russia had significant economic interest and significant investment into Libya.
Not just weapon trade - in fact, no significant weapons were shipped during the last decade, but contracts
were signed back in 2010 - including restructuring of Libyan debt to Russia. Gaddafi agreed to pay in
exchange for forgiveness of some portion of Libyan debt, and new contracts. Russia's Economic interests
include contract for building of a major railroad, supply of equipment for oil and gas industry, and heavy
involvement of Gasprom in gas production in Libya. It is estimated as about $16Bln total. Obviously Russia
got kicked out and all these interests are gone, including pending payments for already shipped equipment.
Russia's direct economic losses resulting from 2003 US invasion in Iraq are estimated between $30...40Bln.
You got the picture: dictatorial of semi-dictatorial regimes can be found all over the place, however very few
of them are condemned to be nondemocratic and get bombed for that. By a strange coincidence these few
chosen are always the ones where Russia has economic interest. You can name them easily. Syria will be
the next, I guess.
I never for a moment believed that communism was through in Russia. That country produces some of the worlds best chess players. The "collapse" with the destruction of the wall in berlin was just a distraction. Sort of like sacrificing a queen to lure your opponent into a trap.
Putin was a communist for many years, he was later made a member of KGB. Do you really think a tiger like that could totally and eternally change his stripes. I don't.
You have "former communists" still in power making the decisions for the people. It just looks like democracy. I am certain if things turn ugly, the communist nations will unite, and I am also certain that will include Russia.
I might be wrong, but just in case I'm right remember I told you so.
Putin, unlike Sen. McCain, has flashable BIOS. Yes, this means that he is
able to adaptively reprogram his brain according to the needs and situation.
So today's Putin is not exactly the same as back in 2000, and tomorrow he
will be slightly different from today.
Same applies to Communists: you won't see damn hardliners there any more.
They trim down communist rhetorics (nobody believes in it any way) and push
for patriotism, industrialization, and stimulation of domestic economy as
the instrument to achieve what they call social fairness.
I know that it might sound funny for you, but having about 30% communists
in State Duma is actually very useful - they literally bring sanity into the
legislative process. They dilute and constrain the ability of United Russia
party to give wet-n-sloppy b l w j b to Putin all the time (even when he
himself does not ask for it). This is what you would call "system of checks
This guy completely lost me after "don't panic". Anyways, Putin wasn't so bad the first time round. He has helped Rebuild Russia after the post communist transition period of the 1990's. Remember in 1998 when Russia was on the brink of poverty? I can only imagine what it would take to run a country of that size remember that Russia is bigger than the U.S and Canada combined.
I personally do not consider rebuilding an economy by allowing organized crime to flourish unchecked to be an accomplishment. He is a profoundly dangerous man: President of the Russian mob.
put-in version 1.000000001
no worries CNN! we as a civilized world won’t run out numbers to name the versions :)
It was crystal clear 4 years ago that Medvedev is nothing more than a formal placeholder for Putin, so "the news" is not exactly the news. During the past 4 years, Putin was remaining the real ruler, while Medvedev tried to look significant (without much success).
About Putin: he is exactly what today's Russians want to see in a Tzar: impudent, trash-talking, unprincipled, and cynical. Putin is not the cause, but the result. He is secondary to the people's mentality. Each nation gets exactly the kind of leader that it deserves, and Putin is there forever.
(in addition to my previous posting)
One of the key elements of the Putin's success is that he mastered the skill to channel the anger and frustration of the Russians towards USA. Whatever bad happens in Russia – it's all caused by the Americans who want to destroy Russia. I am not exaggerating – 15 years ago when I left Russia the people were extremely friendly towards America, and today they absolutely hate it. Xenophobic rhetoric of Putin – sometimes directly, sometimes mediated through state-controlled media – is very similar to that of Hitler is 1936. So are his actions. So is his entire story. Let's not repeat the same mistake and keep Putin on a short leash!
Come on... The general anti-US public sentiment in Russia starting from the end of 199x and all the way
to the present time is not a news and has nothing to do with Putin, Metvedev et al.
Yes, there were three brief periods of "thaw" - the first one is from 1987 to approximately 1994 (starting
with Reigan visit to Moscow, and gradually declining into 1995), the second one was just after Sept 11
and lasting only few month - at first Bush-2 wanted Russia's help for war in Afghanistan and went to
Moscow to promote frienship with Russia and promised to abolish Jackson-Vanick Act, but upon his
return to US he canceled all steal trade with Russia (to satisfy domestic populists) and continued on
with missile defense rhetoric. Officially this "thaw" ended in June 2002 with Bush canceling ABM Treaty,
but in reality it is faded out/ended toward the end of 2001. The third "thaw" started with Obama
inauguration where the most symbolic moment was rolling out crippled Dick Cheney in wheel chair
and faded out already.
I think bombing of Yugoslavia/Serbia in 1999 was humiliating enough for Russia. The message was
later reaffirmed by Bush/Rumsfeld rhetorics during yearly 2001 and up to Sept. 11. Later by starting
Iraq war over Russian objections in US. Reaffirmed later by conflict in Georgia 2008. Finally Obama's
war on Lybia.
Come on... it is self-obvious to feel anti-American in Ruissia: how many second chances should be
given to the US.
Let me guess they will swap places at the next elections again . Great way to run a democracy, same people just take turns.
I'm sorry, the man looks like Satan is dancing behind those icy blue eyes of bad intent.
Never trust the KGB.
Dictatorship country !! What do you expect?
Putin running for president again is not news to anyone with a pulse.
Well, I'm recalling life in US when there was a Cold War and, you know what ... WE USED TO LIVE MUCH BETTER, THEN NOW. Yes, just think about it. After 89th its started getting worse, then USSR collapsed, US felt "free" and our financial system started going crazy. Right after Union collapsed! Just compare how you used to live at 84 (time when I came to US), and how you live now! See the difference? So, we need the USSR or strong Russia back, to counterbalance the US government, bankers, and all those guys on the Wall Street so they don't kill our future again. And hey, is democracy more important than food for my children? I don't care about democracy in its present state
I agree with this, although I have to limit my term of US observation from 1992 to 2011, so I cannot
judge how it was in US back in 1984 and 1989. What I see myself is the most moderate way to
characterize is "stagnation at best during the last 19 years".
But what it has to do with Soviet Union/Russia? And where does this thesis that "US needs strong
Soviet Union or Russia to conterbalance itself" come from?
What we have during the last 20 years is a series of one-sided, completely unforced blunders
committed by the US politicians which lead to this net outcome - decline of US. Even creating
conditions for Sept. 11 is mainly due to the short-sighted vision and the "enemy of my enemy is
my friend" kind of logic.
I dont believe in coincidences. The US debt accelerated after 1984 and got exponential after the USSR collapsed - just look at any graph of US public/gross debt. I'm not an economist, but common sense tells me that having strong USSR watching them, the US government controlled all financial stuff pretty well. But when it became clear that USSR was going down, they felt impunity, like they could do everything they wanted, and they unleashed a complete hell of financial instruments, stocks, speculations, bubbles, dotcoms and all that stuff we can see nowadays.
US debt accelerated starting with 1984 - I believe in US it is caused "Reiganomics" and slogan that
"deficits do not matter". Did not we hear the same slogan coming out of the mouse of Dick Cheney
during the election campaign in 2004? And did not we hear proudly pronounced "Reigan-type Future
President" back in 2000 and 2004, and even today from Tea Party members? They still remember
the great communicator with pride.
Of course, the consequence of "reiganomics" it was a period of sobering up a little bit at the end
of Bush-1 era (which ultimately costs him presidency – victorious Gulf Wat 1 was forgotten after one
year, except in the Movie of The Gig Leibowsky –"this aggression would not stand"). But that period
was far cry of what we have right now.
So what? Reiganomics and its consequence are 100% pure-American-caused problem.
During Clinton era it was dot-com bubble raise and burst -again 100% pure-American problem.
George W. Bush... Oh well, he got Sept 11 as the excuse... Or did he? Remember the period of 8 month
starting with his innaguration and ending with Sept. 11? What they were talking about? Remember what
US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about? "Russia is not part of the solution - Russia is part of
the problem" - his words at that period. They were about to push for missile defense. Remember than?
The point is that US tax payer's money would be EQUALLY WASTED regardless of whether Sept. 11
happened or not. Same applies to Iraq war - it would be started any way.
Once again, 100% pure-American problem, Has nothing to to with Soviet Union or Russia.
Obama... well, he just inherited the whole situation. He may be miss-handled few tactical things,
but don't blame him
You keep repeating "Pure American Problem", but you did not name any reasons for those problems to be "pure American". From what I see right now, we started having those "pure American" problems right after the collapse of USSR. You're paying too much attention to what politicians say, although today it's obvious that their words is just a well played drama for true believers. So let's just look at their actions rather then words and declarations. US troops occupied Iraq ... Do you really think they would do the same if USSR was alive? NATO strikes Serbia ... Same thing, if USSR were in power, they would never do this to the Slavic country. Next, Afghanistan ... Do I need to even mention that US would NEVER EVER invade this country if it had a border with USSR of 70es? And same logic I can apply to almost ALL "pure American" problems from 90s until Today that just exhausted our budget to negative values and resulted it our today's critical debt.
Hmm... When a so called EXPERT tells you not to worry... you better watch your a$$ for sure !!
Gordon Hahn, you need to know Russia before you try to write somethng about it.
In other words, nothing will change in Russia–it will be just as corrupt and resistant to reform as when Putin held the office before, and Russia will continue its policy of propping up evil governments around the world like Iran and Syria.
This is not a matter of who is better or who is worse, or what nation is responsible for what errors in world events. We can argue this all day, but we cannot argue that Russia is a democracy. Democracy allows political campaigning, free and open debate, and transparent elections, and while this sometimes gets cloudy in all democracies, it has never once been clear in Russia. This restriction of freedom is causing all the best young Russian minds of the last 20 years to flee the nation for safer and wealthier careers in the west, effectively depriving Russia of its future while it lives now in a wealthy present fueled only by oil riches. Watch what happens when the prices drop...bread lines and suffering.
Because of this censorious approach to politics, perhaps the best candidate for the job has not even been heard from. Perhaps there is someone with an international reputation, proven success in business, a real desire to help Russia, appealing to the Russian people, popular with those in power? There is such a person, yet he entered into an ill-advised deal with Putin to take the helm of a fake opposition party. His name is Prokhorov, and he is the best qualified person to bring real reform and change to Russia. When Putin's attack dog Surkov saw that Prokhorov might actually provide a worthy adversary, he refused to allow Prokhorov to run on his own platform of ideas. Surkov tried to rein him in, Prokhorov said, no. I respect a man for that. This is just my opinion, but we will never know how the Russian people feel because they will never hear these ideas openly until Prokhorov finds a way to run on a platform of truth instead of lies.
It's time for more people to leave the council, this rusty ship. Kudrin resignation as well as Prokhorov's exit show the changes, show, that effective politicians and effective ideas don't want anymore being controlled. The ideologie is changing, in spite of fears of Kremlin. Those, who are indepencdent, will find a support. Don't panic over Putin, it's not he, who pull strings in democracy development in Russia, he just agree, that it's mamaged, like Surkov supposed. While the first persons are tom-theme, politics is made by puppet masters. Prochorov said true.
Do not cry for Prokhorov - he is a non-starter. Besides, his dismissal from
his own party was due to rebellion against him within the party itself which
has nothing to do with Putin, Medvedev, censorship, or lack of freedom.
Proven success in business? What king of success? Be at the right time in
the right spot and grab a huge chunk of property? Come on. Continuing this
way we will end up picketing US Embassy in Moscow and chanting "Freedom to
economic geniuos Bernard Madoff".
All these guys (inc. Prokhorov and those who rebel against him - Bogdanov et
all) are apriori loosers because are trying to promote ideas which already
failed back in 199x and nobody in his right mind wants to go there. I doubt
that this has to do anything with Surkov "the puppetmaster" either (although
I have no sympaty to that figure as well - just an experienced clerk who is
mastering intrigues and carpet fights).
Putin's got Jokes!!! "I" really like this guy! He is almost like the fear of the anti-Lord!
All, "I" can say about Putin is that he will make is stands clear to the world about what side of the coin he is on. If there is not center then, put your space helmets on and kill yourself or die!
I wanna kick Putin right in the nuts.
He probably does not care ...
Are you people totally clueless. .
This move by Putin was predicted when he became Prime Minister and handpicked Medvedev.
Putin was a Top Communist and KGB officer. That will never change.
You think just because he say he is not a Communist we are supposed to believe him?
Putin has made Russia the 2nd largest oil exporter in the world.
He played hard ball with that the Diamond Cartel so that they would buy more Russian diamonds.
And they went form 5% up top 30%.
Putin now made Russia top natural gas exporter.
All of that money has not gone to help the Russian people, but to help rebuild the old soviet infrastructure.
The USA is broke while Russia is just overflowing with money and they are revamping their military, while the US is cutting back.
Russia is friend to no one they never have and never will be.
This a country and system that has always lied about everything to the world until they got caught.
Wake up people.
This is the beginning of a slow return to a new modern day version of Soviet system.
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