Putin's Neo-Imperial Ambitions

As Vladimir Putin's re-election approaches on March 14, it is time to take stock of his presidency. The biggest thing to happen on his watch is that Russia stabilized itself. With stability, the face of 21st century Russia was revealed.

What much of the world sees in Putin's Russia is a neo-authoritarian regime based on a state-directed capitalism interlinked with the ruling bureaucracy and flanked by an immature civil society. In terms of raw power, Russia is clearly inferior to the former Soviet Union. This Russia is neither capable, nor desirous of, full integration with the West.

But weakened, as it no doubt is, Putin's Russia still regards itself as a great power. The ruling elite rejects transforming Russia into a junior partner of the US or an unimportant member of the West. As far as Russia's elite is concerned, Realpolitik in the 21st century is a fusion of geopolitics and geo-economics, with military might thrown in. Ideology and values play little role.

Thus, Putin does not view closer relations with the West as an ideological imperative, but as a resource for Russia's economic modernization. In relations with the US and EU, Putin wants to boost Russia's status. This is what his modernization policy aims to achieve.