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Putin's Re-election And The Challenge To Western Dominance – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Putin's Re-election and the Challenge to Western Dominance

Anil Trigunayat

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is being perceived, at a popular level, as the war by the West against Russia as the Grey Zone warfare and one-sided narratives predominate their respective global spaces.

In the recently held presidential elections in the Russian Federation, two things were foregone conclusions. President Putin will win his fifth election with a wide margin, and the West will junk these elections as undemocratic, corrupt, and stolen. No doubt, dissent and divergence in democracy are natural and a must. This was evident in the large-scale voter turnout both in Russia and among Russians abroad.

Occasional protests were witnessed that were germane due to the death of long-time dissident leader Navalny in an Arctic jail, the arrest of some opposition leaders, and the disqualification of others. But the Russians are at war, which might be the key to understanding.

Some might oppose it, as is natural, and would want a change in the leadership. But when the question of Russian nationalism and patriotism confronts them, they want a leader who can withstand the external pressures and win it for them.

Russian history attests to that. The Russians have an uncanny ability to handle pain and adversity. This also explains Putin’s wide margins of victory, apart from the fact that this has been a trend all along with weak, not so popular, and credible opposition candidates or parties. The there-is-no-alternative (TINA) factor also operates in such a scenario.

Regime change agendas of the West and continuous tirades against their strongest opponent add to his appeal. Ironically, the West is equally responsible for Putin’s victory. Well, Russia says it has its own democratic governance model.

Apart from the Russian pride and Putin redeeming their pride back after the greatest humiliation in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is being perceived, at a popular level, as the war by the West against Russia as the Grey Zone warfare and one-sided narratives predominate their respective global spaces.

The unprecedented Western sanctions may have definitely impacted the Russian economy and policy. But the Russian ‘war economy’, which has performed as well, if not better, than their Western partners, growing at over 3 per cent, has gone in Putin’s favour.

During his 24 years, the GDP seems to have grown by over 11 times to $2.2 trillion, and its debt-to-GDP ratio went down from 92 per cent to 23 per cent of GDP. Consequently, with a declining population, per capita income also went up by 10 times, and inflation is said to be down to 3.5 per cent from a high of 36.6 per cent in 1999.

All these do have an impact on people’s political preferences. Hence, Putin’s approval ratings have been hovering above 70 per cent.

Even the ruble has stabilised and is emerging as a currency backed by huge gold reserves of $600 billion, compared to the US dollar, which abdicated the gold standard some fifty years ago. In response to weaponisation of financial instruments, the cutting off of Russia from Western financial architecture, and the confiscation of its over $360 billion reserves, Moscow weaponised: food, fuel, and fertilisers. These 4F have played havoc with the global economy and society, especially the Global South, let alone the contending parties. It is leading to incremental de-dollarisation as more and more countries resort to bilateral or plurilateral exchange mechanisms.

Russia, which is chairing the BRICS-plus this year, will hope to push for alternate financial architecture and clearing mechanisms in concert with the already ongoing ‘yuanaisation’ of the currency landscape by China.

Putin, in his victory speech, took a dig at the US, the greatest democracy, which is going through a major domestic challenge. He called his country’s democracy arguably a better model. In any case, while democracy with robust institutions remains the best form of governance, many countries and people have begun to question whether the Westminster style is the best fit for them.

Being faced with Western isolationism, Putin began to focus more on the East and Global South, especially in Asia and Africa and even Latin America, and has been able to extract significant support and appreciation for his policies despite direct confrontation with the West using its resource and energy tools. BRICS-plus, the SCO, the Eurasian landscape, and focused connectivity have become the preferred instruments for regaining influence.

This was evident in the congratulatory messages Putin continued to receive from various leaders as criticism in the West grew louder.

India and Russia have been special, privileged, strategic, and trusted partners since Putin took over the reins of Russia nearly a quarter century ago. The leadership of both countries is heavily invested in it. During the Soviet/Russian era, Moscow stood with India and protected her vital interests in the international forum, especially during the Cold War era, while helping build up its industrial base.

President Putin has publicly many times praised PM Modi and his leadership for India’s rise. New Delhi, despite not endorsing the invasion of Ukraine and urging dialogue, diplomacy, and respect for the UN Charter, did appreciate the Russian security concerns and did not condemn them, which the western countries pressured her to.

The reason was that it could not be a pick-and-choose approach while the barely two-decade-old history of unilateralism by the West was staring at you in invasions of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, leaving a trail of destruction. Two wrongs do not make one right, but one can ignore the wrong and hypocrisy at one’s peril.

Among many felicitation messages, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted warmly, “Warm congratulations to H.E. Mr. Vladimir Putin on his re-election as the President of the Russian Federation. We look forward to working together to further strengthen the time-tested Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia in the years to come.” That says it all for a bilateral relationship that is poised for further momentum despite the global downturn.

Whether Putin’s victory will lead to the resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war or the escalation and expansion of the conflict between Russia and NATO, with nuclear threats hanging by the thread, remains to be seen. But very likely, Moscow will consolidate its position in the global discourse even as factors for Cold War 2.0 become more salient by the day.

Anil Trigunayat is the former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is currently a Distinguished Fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was first published in First Post as Amid Cold War 2.0, Putin’s fifth term will consolidate Russia’s position on March 21, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.

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