By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Once Putin is elected, Russia is going to look remarkably similar to before he was elected. Why? Because Putin, in a sense, never left. Putin was running the government and the economy on a day to day basis. While he had ceded the presidency, and therefore foreign policy, to Dmitri Medvedev, it was really a charade - Putin was behind most of the most important decisions anyway.
If Putin wins this election, which he’s almost certainly going to do, and if he wins the next election, which he is allowed to run for, he will have been in charge of Russia for over twenty years, maybe twenty five years. This is longer than Stalin.
One wonders whether Russia is really willing to have one man - even if a somewhat competent man, and even if someone whom they regard as having restored Russia - rule for that long. I have a feeling that, while the protests that we saw over the last few months were small, they represent some degree of public dissatisfaction with this idea of a kind of life-time czar.
The Russian economy is based on essentially oil, natural gas, diamonds and nickel –it’s all natural resources. It’s really a Siberian Saudi Arabia. And in order for Russia to develop - economically and politically - it has to be able to diversify its economy. So far there are very few signs of this. And you have to say, one of the reasons might be that it isn’t to the advantage of the regime to diversify. The more you diversify, the more prospect there is for losing political control. As long as you have what is essentially an oil economy - oil, natural gas, natural resources - all that can be very neatly controlled by the regime.
With Putin now back on top fully, there might actually be a small benefit that comes from it - that is, he’ll now want to be the deal maker, whether it’s with Obama or whether with the Europeans.
The odd thing about Vladimir Putin is he’s a very, very shrewd analyst. I’ve met him a few times, and I’m always struck by his very strong analytic skills. He’s a very good debater, for example, whenever he’s trying to present a position. And he’s written these newspaper articles for various Russian newspapers that analyze Russia’s situation, including all of its problems - political, economic, lack of democracy, for example - and he does it all very intelligently.
He doesn’t seem to understand that he is the source of many of those problems. He is the architect of the system that he is creating, and that’s where you wonder if there’s some kind of strange self-delusion where he doesn’t understand that he is at the heart of the reasons that Russia can’t progress in the way that he is describing.
Perhaps there will be some kind of revelation where he begins to understand that and loosens up and opens up the system. I very much doubt it. I think more likely, it will take some kind of sharp shock from the outside to bring that realization.