What else is new in Russia?

The news wires are eager to report how many thousands protested in the aftermath of the Russian Duma election on Dec. 4. Some are even inflating the figures, leading to misperceptions that something is changing in the land of the Muscovites.



Needless to say, there is an element of the Arab-awakening syndrome injected into such reporting, but my sources tell me there is no cause for excitement in Russia. The Putin-Medvedev switch is going to take place as planned and agreed upon months ago. All of the other actors and news about their aspirations provide spice to the dismally boring process of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin coming back to the Russian presidency.

A number of things are noteworthy, though. The Russian public is not as dumb as some in the Kremlin think they are. They did not buy into things like Putin’s ill-advised stunt finding two ancient amphorae during his image-polishing diving exercises. They are also not very fond of the same names coming up over and over again of politicians who are far from treating the cancer of corruption and mistreatment in the country. Yet, they also do not want chaos and unpredictability so they go for the devil they know — Putin. As a recent Stratim-SETA event on Russia confirmed, Putin is still popular in the countryside. However, we also see signs reflecting the desire for change in the Russian Federation. The middle class is growing in this large country, and the more they do, the more they will demand rights and guarantees from the political system.

The details of the exact spread of voting patterns has yet to emerge, but even in Russia the urge for normalcy can be heard. The seat distribution of members in the Duma points to a diverse and loose Duma, something Putin surely appreciates. He does not want a strong Duma. That said, Putin has the capacity to bring together a coalition that would be able to change the constitution. The election outcome was also calibrated in a way to signal to the Russian electorate and the intelligentsia in Moscow that Medvedev at the helm of Edinnaya Rossiya, the ruling party, meant a decrease in votes and lesser representation in the Duma. Not that it matters as the Duma is by and large a rubber-stamp institution for the Kremlin. Also, the appearance of an election serves to release the tension in the country and allows the system to re-legitimize itself. So, all is well. There were a limited number of election observers in the country, and the desired outcome has been achieved. We are all set for the March 2012 presidential election which will bring Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin back to the Kremlin.

I recently had the chance to see an early version of a very interesting piece by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy titled “Putin and the Uses of History,” which will be published in the National Interest in its January/February 2012 issue. It provides interesting insights into Putin and how he sees himself in the flow of Russian history. I think the piece also provides clues as to what sort of president we should expect after March 2012. He is going to represent the faction in Russian politics that yearns for stability and confidence. It is also this faction that puts the state at the center of the body politic. This is a distinctly Mongol-Tatar trait of Russian political culture and not too alien to us Turks either. So, we do have an easier time comprehending it though most of us do not condone it anymore. Interesting times in the shadow of tumultuous changes in the Middle East and Mediterranean region are in store for Russia and the region. Turkey will have to maneuver carefully as all of Turkey’s neighbors are currently in flux, be it the European Union, Russia, the Middle East or the Mediterranean.


Suat Kiniklioglu is AK Party Deputy Chairman for External Affairs, a member of the AK Party Central Executive Committee, and Director of Center for Strategic Communication (stratim).


This article first published at Today’sZaman.

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