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What’s ahead for Putin and Russia?

Occasional Observer

Not only is he one of the most powerful dictators in the world, some say he may also be the richest.   

His early career with the secret police (the KGB) prepared him only too well for the acquisition of power in a totalitarian state. Vladimir Putin’s career, has been a combination of skill, luck, and good timing. He entered  government as a protege of President Yeltsin in 1999 and he has consolidated and increased his power ever since to the point he recently amended the Russian constitution such that he may now legally remain as President until 2033, at which time he will be 81.

In his first 15 years as Prime Minister and President, everything occurred in his favor. He straightened out the chaotic government left to him by Yeltsin and was the beneficiary of a greatly improved economy sparked by the enormous increase in oil and gas prices and other raw materials. Even with election “irregularities” Putin was very popular and won re-election in 2018 easily.

Russia is a depressed country. With the lowest life expectancy in Europe (men 64, women 76), and nearly one in seven adults is alcoholic. Also its drug use is now one of the highest in Europe. Russia’s population of 148 million people has barely grown over the past sixty years and since the 1990s its death rate has exceeded its birth rate. At 1.6 children born per woman, Russia has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world and one of the oldest populations with a median age of 41years. 

Russia is the largest country in the world. And unlike most countries it is geographically well positioned and well endowed. While tropical and semi-tropical countries are battling excessive heat, drought,  and flooding, most of Russia including Siberia is poised to become much more livable and agriculturally productive in the coming years thanks to climate change. The country is rich in natural resources such as fossil fuels, metals, forests and, most important, water. Currently Russian agriculture is backward; but with concentrated effort the country could become a world leader in food production. 

But, like the U.S. only more so, Russia has devoted too large a share of its economy to the military and to harvesting natural resources, especially fossil fuels..  To be prosperous a generation from now, Russia must rapidly start shifting its economy to other, more sustainable fields. 

Materially speaking, Putin has most everything a person would want. 

For the past several years, a new villa dubbed “Putin’s Palace” has been under construction at a cost of more than $1.5 billion along the “Russian Riviera” on the Black Sea.    

Divorced in 2014. Putin has two daughters (ages 33 and 35) by an earlier marriage.  He has been rumored to have a longstanding relationship with a woman the age of his daughters.

Putin’s moves to recreate Russia as a great nation by dominating its former satellites has been generally popular at home including  his seizure of the Crimea and his aggression against Eastern Ukraine. But at the same time Russians have more and more come to regard him as a despot, preoccupied with controlling everything, and enriching himself and his “oligarchs” in the process. 

The imprisoning and murdering of his political challengers has not been popular with the Russian people. The poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Novalny has brought more protesters out into the streets all across the country than any other of Putin’s previous attempts to suppress dissent.

Although he could improve his standing with people in neighboring states, the First World, and his own country by permitting dissent at home  Putin has no intention of doing so. He has improved his popularity at home by fighting a “cold war” with his neighbors and the “West”. And allowing dissent seems to him too menacing to his own, and national, security.

Foremost in the mind of Putin and his oligarchs is the threat of a popular revolution, where they might be replaced by Novalny or some other uncorruptible leader calling for honest government. Not only would Putin and his accomplices lose their wealth but might also be tried as criminals.

Were Putin to have a political epiphany and decide to turn the country much more democratic, the resistance from many sectors of the government might be enormous, perhaps even ending in his overthrow. Many thousands of Russians profit from the currant corrupt system and would not give up their positions willingly. 

A strong, heroic leader like Novalny, should he survive, coupled with the death of Putin would offer the best hope for a future democratic government. But don’t hold your breath. In time, there may be another Russian revolution but probably not any time soon.  

 

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.

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