Presidential Election in Russia: No sensations, no surprises
Valdaiclub.com interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor–in–Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine (since 2002), shares his views on the results of the presidential elections in Russia with valdaiclub.com
What is your assessment of the presidential election result?
I think the result was very predictable – no sensations, no surprises. The relative successful showing by newcomer Mikhail Prokhorov is an interesting phenomenon, but it’s not a sensation either because I think it was the effect of a new face. Voters in Russia have grown quite tired of seeing the same faces for 20 years. And so Prokhorov had the advantage of being new. But anyway, he showed that he has good chances for a political career in the future.
As for Putin’s victory, it was predictable. I think he still enjoys quite strong support among the population. What should worry him is his weak showing in Moscow, where he received slightly below 50% of the vote. This shows that the more politically active part of the population in the big cities is less happy with what is going on in terms of Russia’s internal dynamics than the less politically active part of the population. And I think he will need to address this group of people in his years as president.
What reaction should we expect from the opposition?
They will try to maintain the momentum that was created by the political developments last fall, between September and December, after it was announced that Putin would run for president again and after the parliamentary elections, which were seen as much less transparent than the presidential one. So, for the opposition, the main concern is how to maintain the momentum and how to transform the political activity that erupted quite spontaneously after the parliamentary elections in December into a more structured political force in order to create a new, competitive environment for the next political period, especially since the last initiatives by Dmitry Medvedev as president were aimed at increasing the level of competition in the Russian political system.
In your opinion, how will Putin handle the opposition movement and the popular discontent as president?
I think Putin deeply disagrees with what the people in the streets are demanding. He doesn’t believe they are right. Most likely, he will try to peel off part of the opposition by offering them political careers in the government – those who would be willing to work for the administration. He will most likely ignore the rest. It depends on the opposition. If the opposition acts as it always has and turns on each other, then this movement will fade quite fast. But it won’t vanish completely, because I think the discontent among the politically active part of the population will not just disappear, but the movement would be quite short-lived. I hope that Putin has learned a lesson: that something was wrong with the previous model, that insufficient political representation leads to these kinds of protests. Hopefully, he will try to liberalize the political system in order to give different forces more space to express themselves.
How will the political situation in Russia and its foreign policy change after the election?
I don’t expect any serious changes in foreign policy. Stylistically it will be different, because Putin is a different person from Medvedev, and Putin has a very strong image and reputation. He will be perceived as a more assertive leader, regardless of what he does. But substantially I don’t think we will see serious changes in Russia’s foreign policy approach. Domestically he will need to launch a renewal of the government. He has promised that. And there will be very serious expectations – and not only among protestors but in the ruling group – that new faces will appear in the government and new approaches will be adopted. I think he knows that the model of the 2000s has basically been exhausted. It was more or less successful and sufficient in the previous decade, but now he will need to invent something new. To what extent does he have ideas on how to do this? Despite his series of articles, we still don’t know. So we will see.