Vladimir Putin Alexei Druzhinin\TASS via Getty Images

What Putin Won in Russia’s Election

Over the course of his 18 years in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin has veered from embracing the West to vilifying it. His reelection – with record-high turnout and support – suggests that his bet on nationalism has paid off handsomely, and that Russia is headed for a long period of stagnation.

MOSCOW – At the beginning of his presidency in the early 2000s, Vladimir Putin was a pro-Western island in a sea of anti-Western Russian elites. As I observed at the time, his desire to “anchor Russia firmly to the West” stood in stark contrast to the country’s traditional notions of security. But after Sunday’s presidential election, in which Putin cemented his vision of Russia as a military bastion, it is clear that now his island is nationalism, and will remain so for as long as he rules the Kremlin.

The danger this poses is all too clear. After 18 years in power, Putin now goes even further than his Soviet predecessors in casually raising the prospect of a nuclear conflict with the West. This aggressive rhetoric seems to have served him well in the election, the result of which has essentially granted him carte blanche for his fourth term.

As I was leaving for the polling station, my niece Masha, a first-year college student, pointed out, “Putin is the only leader I have ever known.” That gave me chills. When I was a first-year college student in Moscow, I knew only Leonid Brezhnev, and what that augured for the future seemed horrifying. Putin, for his part, has already surpassed Brezhnev’s tenure in power, and is now second only to Joseph Stalin, who ruled for almost three decades.

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