Will the Meek Inherit Russia?

In his decade in power, Vladimir Putin has consolidated and strengthened the security forces, intimidated and jailed opponents, and muzzled the media and courts. But if he doesn’t step down or aside so that Russia can move forward, the system he has created may turn his own methods against him.

MOSCOW – In a recent interview, Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev proclaimed that he wants a second term in office following the 2012 election, but that he would not run against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who put him in power in the first place. Such a rivalry, Medvedev implied, would damage the country’s well-being and image.

Medvedev’s statement should end speculation about whether he is running, yet it keeps the suspense alive regarding Putin, whose influence is far greater than that of Russia’s meek president. Many, particularly in the West, would like to see Putin and his prickly, anti-Western authoritarianism pass from the scene.

Indeed, over the last ten years, Russian foreign policy has been animated by defensiveness and suspicion. Russia even has uneasy relations with the congenitally non-threatening European Union. It is touchy about the independence of the near-abroad countries, especially those politically or geographically close to the West – Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. More than a decade after the fact, the Kremlin still decries NATO’s eastward enlargement as a security threat.

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