LONDON -- Opinions about Vladimir Putin run the gamut. In the West, he is regarded as an “authoritarian,” an “autocrat,” even as a “dictator” while in Russia a huge majority regard him as the most “democratic” of leaders, on the grounds that he has done more than his predecessors to improve the lot of ordinary people. But there is one point on which both camps agree: Putin intends to remain in power indefinitely.
That conclusion stems from Putin’s recent statement that he might become prime minister after relinquishing the presidency next May. But, regardless of what Putin does, his personal influence and the strategic direction in which he has taken Russia will remain dominant for years to come.
Given this reality, what matters now is how this “Putin system” will work, which will depend on institutional frameworks and practices. At stake, both for Russia and the wider world, are stability and legitimacy, hence the prospects for steady political and economic modernization.
Legitimacy and stability are inseparable in practice, because maintaining stability in the absence of legitimacy would ultimately require Tiananmen-style repression. But this can be ruled out in today’s Russia, because the instruments to implement it – notably an army that would obey orders to mow people down in the streets – are lacking.