Putin remains in the mystery of Russia

Vladimir Putin's resounding victory in Russia's presidential election was expected. The University Think Corner panel on March 5 was unanimous on the reason's of Putin's popularity: he represents and promises stability.

Discussing in the panel were Director of Aleksanteri Institute Markku Kivinen, Director of Research Markku Kangaspuro, researcher Hanna Smith and researcher Sirke Mäkinen from the University of Tampere.

According to the panelists, Putin does not have serious contenders. Opposition within the Duma is scattered, and centred around the same politicians since the 1990s. Moderate left is nonexistent. Thus, Putin's supporters number both those who want change and those who oppose it.

Now Russians expect Putin to make true on his campaign promises. How this will succeed remains to be seen. Kivinen noted:

—There are immense challenges ahead. The big question is, how the internal problems like weak welfare state can be solved.

To Mäkinen, Putin's platform did not indicate plans for extensive political changes. It is doubtful that he will face challenge to his authority during the next six years. Such a challenge will not come from Dmitry Medvedev. Kangaspuro said:

—Medvedev may get replaced as prime minister. He will be easy to sacrifice, should a cosmetic compromise or a real indication of the administration's willingness to respond to protests be needed.

The protests following the Duma election were minor in the scale of Russia's population but brought about the awakening of civil society. People who had been passive or complacent got out on the streets. In Smith's view, the protests also forced traditional parties to shape up. For instance, the communist party mounted its best campaign in many years. The future of the opposition movement outside the Duma cannot be predicted. Mäkinen asked:

—Will the protest mood stay as it is, expand or dry up? If it expands and the opposition is able to create a credible programme, Putin's administration will be forced to react. Whether this will be purely cosmetic is a different matter.

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Text: Maria Niku
Photo: Ari Aalto
7.3.2012
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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