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Putin's challenge

Putin’s astounding victory, followed by the West’s silence, indicates how Russia has posed an appreciable threat to Western hegemony, argues Arun Srivastava

Putins challenge
Vladimir Putin's re-election as the President of Russia, encompassing his decree over the world's largest country for another six years, that too at a time when his ties with not only the Western world but also with other parts of the globe, including France and EU, are on a hostile trajectory, has certainly not come as a surprise.
That Putin will get elected was a certainty, but how the world fraternity would react was a matter of conjecture, though the perspective of western hostility was on the cards. In this backdrop, it is really intriguing to watch the mute attitude of the West. The leading political figures of western democracies and countries have so far maintained a stoic silence. This undoubtedly sends the message that they are weighing the situation: how the people of their own countries react to Putin getting re-elected.
The manner in which the former communist countries have been rallying behind their leaders has been quite exciting. Barely ten days back, Xi Jinping was conferred with the lifelong Presidency of China. Putin's victory will take his political dominance of Russia to nearly a quarter of a century, until 2024, by when he will be 71. Historically, only Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ruled for longer. Putin will be using his new term to beef up Russia's defences against the West along with raising living standards. What is remarkable about this victory is Putin, who dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, won 75.9 per cent of the vote.
The manner in which the western world has united and roped in the EU, the UK and even France against Putin much ahead of the elections simply gave the impression that they were determined to defeat him. But, their mission did not succeed. It obviously implied that the Russians did not subscribe to their views and approach towards Putin. On the contrary, the nationalist plank of Putin helped him consolidate his grip. In a victory speech near Red Square, Putin told a cheering crowd that he interpreted the win as a vote of confidence in what he had achieved in tough conditions. "It's very important to maintain this unity. We will think about the future of our great Motherland," said Putin, before leading the crowd in repeated chants of "Russia!"
Putin is absolutely right in saying that difficult times are ahead, but that Russia also has the opportunity to make "a breakthrough". It is an open secret that if Putin had not adopted a tough stance against the western countries, especially the USA, he might not have survived the western manoeuvrings. True enough, his tough stand has been vindicated by the result. His aides are correct in observing — "the United States and Britain have understood they cannot influence our elections." Before the election, he had, in fact, told his people about the new nuclear weapons. To erase the Western threat from the minds of his people, he had even emphasised that they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield.
After Stalin, Putin probably is the only leader to earn such huge public respect. It is an incredible achievement and commitment to building the country that the former KGB agent was accorded the status figure of the father-of-the-nation by the common people for restoring national pride and expanding Moscow's global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine. The people of Russia even contemptuously dismissed the allegation of his overseeing a corrupt, authoritarian system and of illegally annexing Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, a move that isolated Russia internationally. Though the west imposed sanctions against Russia, the people supported him for restoring the dignity and prestige of mother Russia.
The relation between Britain and Russia took the worst turn with Britain accusing it of interfering in the issue of Brexit. Both countries are also locked in a diplomatic dispute over the spy poisoning incident. Meanwhile, Washington is eyeing new sanctions on Moscow over the allegations that it interfered in the 2016 US presidential election, of which, they do not yet have concrete evidence. This is the most ridiculous allegation against Putin. The fact of the matter is that the West is scared of Putin continuing to rule; his life-long stay in power. With Putin leading Russia, the West cannot think of re-establishing its hegemony on the global fraternity. While the world leaders have been congratulating Putin, the western leaders have assiduously refused to speak on his victory.
The primary reason for the West getting scared at the victory of Putin is the notion that a strategic relationship between China and Russia will pose a major threat to their survival. The assertion of France, in recent times, at the global level, ought to be seen in this backdrop. In this context, the observation of Chinese President Xi Jinping is worth recalling: "Currently, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership is at the best level in history, which sets an example for building a new type of international relations."
The West is also frightened of Russia's fight in the support of President Bashar al-Assad as it is, according to them, raising the risk of a military collision with the United States. Last week, the head of Russia's General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, accused Washington of planning a cruise missile strike on Damascus. He offered no evidence but pledged that Russia would retaliate against "the missiles and launchers used."
Escalation abroad helps Putin consolidate power at home. Vladimir Putin now has a stronger hold on Russia and a stronger place in the world. This victory has not empowered Putin to have entente with Washington as the USA has already been nursing anti-Russia feelings and forces. The victory of Putin is also a warning to the countries like Crimea and Ukraine and others in the Russian orbit to not move too close to the USA, EU or NATO. That would simply put them in more trouble. Ukraine is already caught in the quagmire of a volatile government in Kiev and a Russia-backed separatist region. Putin's stand during his 18-year rule has already made the countries on the Russian trajectory think of their future strategy and relations. Some of the former Soviet states within the EU are drifting back towards Moscow, from Hungary and Poland to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The latest win would also help Russia economically. Putin who has been cautious of carrying on reforms would prefer to give shape to his policies. He may like to go for serious and bold reforms that have been kept on the back-burner. Russians have to face the worst economic crisis in recent years and it is the primary responsibility of Putin to extricate them out of the morass. Over the years, the personal incomes of millions of Russians have stagnated, the health care system is crumbling and corruption is rife. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Arun Srivastava

Arun Srivastava

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