It was clear from the start that Vladimir Putin would regain the presidency in Sunday's election. But now the country finds itself at a crossroads. DW's Ingo Mannteufel says the weeks ahead will be decisive for Russia.
Ever since last December's contested parliamentary elections, Russia has been experiencing an unusually long period of protests and political mobilization. And yet, this Sunday was not the decisive day on which Russia's political future was decided. It did, after all, not come as a surprise that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - according to preliminary results announced by the electoral commission - emerged victorious from the first round of voting. Neither did opposition groups' charges of vote rigging surprise anyone.
Nevertheless, exciting times are ahead for Russia: How will Putin react when the legitimacy of his election victory is questioned? And what will be the reaction of those dissatisfied Russians who took to the streets in protest in recent weeks?
If one were to be optimistic, one could hope Putin might use his first acts and staff decisions following the election to make clear that he will give in to some opposition demands. That would be a step with historic dimensions and would go some way to appeasing discontented Russians. But it is not a likely scenario.
Rather, it is to be expected that some of the opposition movement's representatives will be targets of repression. It is also likely that superficial changes to and reforms of the Russian system will be announced - without really addressing pressing problems such as corruption and deficits in Russia's democratic and legal systems. The status quo will be there to stay, without any true modernization.
Protesters rallying against Putin have several paths they can take in reacting to this likely scenario. They can either engage, radicalize, resign, adjust or emigrate.
1. Engage: One can only hope that large sections of the anti-Putin movement will not be discouraged by the election outcome, and that they will instead stay involved in Russian politics - especially on a local level, in new political parties or in new civil society organizations.
2. Radicalize: It must be feared that some representatives of the anti-Putin movement will radicalize and, in the worst case, even form terrorist groups. There are indications that this may happen both on the right- and left-wing of the protest movement.
3. Resign: It is not completely unlikely that a fair number of protesters will be so disappointed by the election outcome that they could lose hope and end their political engagement.
4. Adjust: A portion of the anti-Putin population will likely come to terms with everyday conditions in Russia and probably come to view public life with a fair dose of cynicism.
5. Emigrate: Many young, well-educated Russians who made up a significant proportion of protest groups will likely seek good fortune outside of Russia. This brain drain will have a doubly negative impact on the country: Not only will Russia lose precisely those people it would need for democratic development, but worse, the country would lose those it needs for economic and technological modernization - something the Kremlin should fear above all else.
These alternate scenarios indicate that Russia once again finds itself at a crossroads. Sunday's election day was not a truly decisive day. Rather, the coming days and weeks will profoundly shape Russia's future. Even though the president now once again goes by the name Vladimir Putin, a new era has arrived for Russia.
Author: Ingo Mannteufel/ ar
Redaktion: Darren Mara