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UPDATED: October 10, 2011 NO. 41 OCTOBER 13, 2011
The Return of Putin
Vladimir Putin is sure to win the Russian presidential election next year

TANDEM SUPPORTERS: Supporters of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ride a tandem decorated with their pictures during a rally near the Kremlin on August 8 (XINHUA/AFP)


Putin, who left the presidency at the peak of his power, has played a central role in Russia's leadership during Medvedev's administration. But since the political situation has changed a lot in the last three years, Putin has to deal with grave challenges in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

Dissatisfaction about Russia's current social conditions is on the rise. Some people felt so disappointed about Putin's reelection that they declared they would not vote or planned for a protest vote in March 2012.

The anti-Putin movement is growing. Anti-government demonstrations have broken out in many Russian cities, including Moscow, since 2008, calling for a Russia without Putin. The number of protesters at large demonstrations exceeded 10,000.

Worse still, the ruling party's popularity is decreasing sharply. Votes for United Russia were below 50 percent in many regional elections last year. Even Putin's advisors predicted people's support for Medvedev, Putin and United Russia would "disastrously" slide in the next eight months.

Some people and social groups are calling for reforming the existing electoral system in Russia. They have said if the current system is not changed, the international community might refuse to recognize the election result. Then, the legitimacy of the new government would be questioned, and there might be widespread protests in the country.

Western countries are exerting pressure on Russia about Putin's participation in the presidential election. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said he doesn't support Putin running for president during his visit to Russia in March. The Washington Post pointed out that if Putin is reelected, foreign investors could be scared away due to fears of corruption and lack of a sense of safety, coupled with Putin's perceived anti-Western stance.


In spite of all these obstacles, Putin still has many unmatched advantages for being Russian president again.

Despite the Russian Government's poor performance in addressing the financial crisis, Putin's personal charisma has hardly been damaged. He has remained a symbol for Russia's peace and stability. Russians still count on Putin to help maintain public security in Russia with his tough work style. They tend to put the blame for economic and social problems on oligarchies, corrupt officials and police with no integrity, rather than the prime minister himself. In February, Putin's popularity rating stood at 73 percent.

Medvedev has tried his best to help Putin back to the presidency. During the past three years, he has not only discussed all major issues with Putin, but also stayed with Putin's team instead of founding his own. He didn't steal Putin's thunder during his administration, either. Medvedev has also kept quiet about reelection, bringing down Russians' expectations for him to seek a second term.

The key for Putin is that he will not have a competitor who can pose a real threat to him in the coming presidential election. Other parties in Russia are not able to pick a candidate that can challenge Putin.

Putin and his team are also well prepared. United Russia forged an alliance with the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia to support Putin's presidential bid. Putin founded the All-Russia People's Front in May to call on different sectors of society to vote for him. All these are aimed at eliminating possible obstacles and preparing for the 2012 presidential election.

Putin stepped down at the height of his political career in 2008 because of constitutional limits. But his ambition of leading his country to prosperity has never faded away. People have reason to believe that Putin will create another miracle and help bring a strong and prosperous Russia back to the world stage.

The author is director of the Center for China's Peripheral Security Studies at the China Institute of International Studies

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