Writing in Stratfor, Ambassador Cameron Munter contends that if Vladimir Putin manages to break with his usual strategy, Russia may yet find common ground with the West.
Vladimir Putin has won re-election as president of Russia, by a wide margin. According to news reports, he received over 70 percent of the votes cast, with an estimated 60 percent of voters taking part. Despite allegations of irregularities and criticisms that authorities kept legitimate opposition to the incumbent president off the ballot, Putin has achieved what he set out to achieve: a clear mandate for the next six years.
But what is that mandate? And what are we to expect from Russia in the global arena?
Context is important. Putin's last election, in 2012, came on the heels of significant public dissatisfaction (which led to mass protests the Russian president claims were orchestrated by foreign interests). This year's election was in part an attempt to "put to rest ghosts of the past" by preventing displays of public discontent and demonstrating to audiences — domestic and foreign — a sense of order, continuity and strength. The strategy proved successful.
Putin's campaign also pointed to other signs of stability: In spite of low oil prices, most economic indicators in Russia, including wages, unemployment and gross domestic product growth, are stable. None of the metrics is necessarily exemplary, and Russia's poverty rate is still high, but the Kremlin is portraying its economic management as controlled and effective. Its efforts had a powerful psychological effect on the majority of the electorate. As Russians told me on my most recent visit, it could be a lot worse.