By Simon Saradzhyan
Half a year since Vladimir Putin’s election for a third presidential team, it is crystal clear that the expectations of a “Putin 2.0” raised by his aides during the campaign are plain unrealistic (unless, of course, “2” refers to the number of years that some of the more vocal critics of the Kremlin may have to spend in prison).
Putin initially signaled preparedness to accommodate some of the demands for liberalization voiced at the unprecedented protests that galvanized Russian cities in winter. But he has been taking pains since his return to the Kremlin to constrain the ability of the Russian public to rally for changes in the way he has run the country since 2000. Indeed, no leader voluntarily reinvents himself or his system of governance late in his rule and Putin is no exception, as a paper I have co-written to preview Putin’s return to power notes.
When asked whether there will be “tightening of the screws” three days after his victory in the March 4 poll, Putin said, laughingly: “Of course. How can we do without it? Don’t relax.” That turned out to be no joke. Not only did Putin backtrack on some of the promises of liberalization floated during the peak of the protests, but the state’s law-enforcement machine began to toughen their treatment of protesters, disrupting a rally held in Moscow one day before Putin’s May 7th inauguration even though it was authorized by the city authorities. Read more