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'Cynical event'

March 6, 2012

German politicians have called Russia's presidental election a 'cynical event.' They also criticized Putin's lack of plans for reform, and suggested that the new president will come under pressure to modernize.

Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin greets his supporters and campaign staff
Image: picture alliance/landov

Russia's presidential election was a "cynical event" where results had been clear four months ago, according to Andreas Schockenhoff, Germany's coordinator for Russian politics. Putin announced that he would run again for the presidency, the office he held for two terms from 2000 to 2008, at the party congress for United Russia. Schockenhoff explains that Putin had made a deal with former President Dmitri Medvedev that the two would swap offices at the next elections.

But the electorate didn't universally accept this. "Russia is characterized by a growing educated middle class that are taking to the streets to demand change," Schockenhoff said. Putin, he added, wanted to maintain the status quo at whatever cost. He wanted stability. "But stability in a rapidly changing world is deadlock, it's a step backwards. And this tension will continue to characterize the country," Schockenhoff said.

Demand for reforms will conintue

Gernot Erler, deputy parliamentary leader of Germany's Social Democrats and an expert on security and defense issues, is convinced that the protests won't stop after election day.

Andreas Schockenhoff
"Putin wants to maintain the status quo," Schockenhoff saidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"I think we will see Putin under pressure," he said. In Putin's third term, Erler expects there will be pressure on the Kremlin to push through reforms, fight corruption, modernize and reinforce civil society.

Marieluise Beck of the Green Party hopes that Putin sees the writing on the wall. She said he has to give in to people's demands for the rule of law, pluralism in society and a free press. Thousands have taken to the streets in the past months to call for change.

"Structures have to be built in order to create possibilities for the kind of reforms Russia so desperately needs," Beck said.

Demonstration of strength to the outside world

But Putin didn't say much about Russia's inner modernization in terms of the justice system and democracy during his election campaign. Instead, he stressed Russia's worldwide strength.

"In the last couple of weeks, he has talked about a huge rearmament program that is simply not affordable," said Rainer Stinner, German parliamentary foreign affairs spokesman for the pro-business Free Democrats - the party of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Rainer Stinner
Putin's talk of rearmament is not affordable, Stinner saidImage: www.rainer-stinner.de

Stinner's counterpart from the Left party, Wolfgang Gehrcke, said Russia's desire to revive its army's world-wide reputation can only be regarded in a skeptical light. "We need disarmament in Europe - not armament," he said.

Russian affairs expert Schockenhoff said Putin wanted to restore his status back to that of Soviet times.

But Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union won't be successful, said FDP politician Stinner.

'Putin won't change'

According to Schockenhoff, we should not expect to see a "new Putin" in his third term. "Putin wants to implement his view of the country. He has an idea of modernization that is guided from above."

The so-called "guided democracy" with a media landscape widely controlled by the state, was the only way for Putin to achieve good election results, said Marieluise Beck of the Greens. The fact that the political opposition didn't have room to grow was the reason why there was no real alternative to Putin.

Marieluise Beck
Putin relies on so-called guided democracy, Beck saidImage: picture-alliance

In order to secure the status quo, Putin relies on Russia's newly-rich, said Gehrcke from the Left Party. "He's made them an offer for the future so that they can build up their wealth - whilst there is no planned social welfare reform for the majority of the people."

Europe needs to reach out to the Russian people

Schockenhoff believes the people of Russia want to have a say. "True modernization needs to include the active part of society. There will be no modernization from above."

He argues it's important that the German government and other EU leaders don't just talk to Russia's political and economical leaders, but also open a dialogue with a broader section of civil society - through town twinnings, meetings at universities and youth exchange programs.

"There is no back to the future for Russia. A broad inner modernization includes the wider society, and we have to turn to them. We can't just leave it to official ties only," said Schockenhoff.

Author: Markian Ostaptschuk / sst
Editor: Joanna Impey