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100 days of Putin

Alexander Warkentin / crl
August 15, 2012

Has "new" president, Vladimir Putin, already reverted back to his old ways? DW interviewed Russia expert Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder about the state of affairs in Moscow 100 days after Putin reentered office.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin listens to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unseen, during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 24, 2011.(ddp images/AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko).
Image: AP

Vladimir Putin's dominion in Russia spans over a decade, either as its president or prime minister. One-hundred days ago, he formally commenced his third term as president. In the run-up to the election in early March, there was speculation as to whether Russia would get a new Putin. Was this the case?

Hans-Henning Schröder: I have the impression that what we have now is really the old Putin, one that has forgotten what he promised to become during his term as prime minister from 2000 to 2008. Back then he was fond of reform. He had initiative. He had a team that tried to design policies with some degree of imagination. Now, however, that is no longer the case.

How has his team changed? Who are his advisers?

Putin's team has seen some significant reshuffling. Some politicians who worked as domestic intelligence agents, such as Vladislav Surkov and Gleb Pavlovsky, are now no longer working within the president's inner circle. Now we find people like Sergei Ivanov, who seems firmly set on playing by Putin's rules.

Did Putin's government make a mistake with its handling of the Pussy Riot case? Had the three women just been given a fine for their 'punk prayer' against Putin in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, the case might have been quickly forgotten. But now the case has ballooned into an international spectacle...

Prof. Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder
Schröder is skeptical that Putin will make good on his promisesImage: SWP

This was handled very stupidly. A large majority of the Russian population rejects what the women in the punk band did. But the way in which the court and the Orthodox Church have proceeded has cast these three women in a very sympathetic light. Russia has a very strong reputation to lose, and it's clear from this affair that the current leadership was not quick enough to foresee what happened.

Putin's government has taken steps to restrict the right to assemble. Those who participated in demonstrations against election fraud that followed the parliamentary and presidential elections are being pursued systematically. What does this achieve?

We'll have to see what happens at the regional elections in autumn. Indeed, the mass demonstrations in December and January, and then again in March and May came as a shock to the leadership. The instruments they used to counter them were also repressive. I don't think this will be successful in the medium and long term, because Russian society has changed. We are dealing with a modern society - but an outdated leadership. These two will eventually collide.

Protest gegen Wahlbetrug in Russland
Are Moscow's repressive tactics outdated in modern Russia?Image: picture-alliance/dpa

But, nevertheless, Putin has reversed his policy and once again allowed regional governors to be directly elected. Is this not a step towards liberalization?

It was certainly viewed that way. We had two major changes in January under President Dmitry Medvedev. Firstly, the election of governors was permitted, albeit with presidential approval. And secondly, many more political parties were allowed to part in elections. Just how democratic these processes really are, however, will be determined in autumn's regional elections. We will see then whether regional parties will be suppressed and whether all candidates will indeed have the chance to run.

Nowadays, domestic affairs are ultimately also foreign affairs. How is Russia dealing with this? German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has criticized Moscow's 'Njet' in the UN Security Council's resolution on Syria. Isn't Russia just isolating itself here?

We have to be realistic about this. Currently, Russia is really quite flexible in the UNSC, as the United States will be hesitant to make any major political moves in the run-up to its presidential elections. Even within EU and German politics, no big steps will be taken with regard to the issue until well after the general elections in autumn 2013. Basically, Moscow has almost year to pursue its interests.

Hans-Henning Schröder is head of the Russian research division at the German Institute for Foreign and Security Affairs in Berlin (SWP).