Russia is dominated by the upcoming presidential elections these days – the fifth in post-Soviet history. On March 4th the Russians vote for a new president and from discussions with political insiders on a recent visit to the most eastern European city of Perm — west of the Urals — they firmly expect Vladimir Vladimirowitch Putin to win for many reasons. Experts from outside of this vast nation also assume the re-election of Putin to the position which he held for two terms already: from 2000 to 2004 and from 2004 to 2008.
"Russia still has many problems resulting from Stalin’s time," one official in Perm said. "This is a large and important country, but can only be ruled with an iron fist.”
“Europe takes us seriously only if we act more strongly," added another.
Putin’s political legacy targets a close cooperation between Europe and Southwest Asia – a kind of a EurAsian Union. For investors, therefore Russia is an El Dorado. But in Moscow or St. Petersburg the opposition is rising. Russia, however, is much more than what is seen on television by Moscow streets every night.
Outside of the capital — where vital infrastructure of roads, regional airports, or public housing is in an unimaginably bad state — there is an inflow to populists such as Vladimir Chirinovski or the Communist Party. In former military towns like Perm, the communists still have a potential electorate of up to 20%.
The decision by Putin to run for a third term is controversial in its own right and has led to tens of thousands of people demonstrating against Putin and his party "United Russia", notably in Moscow. The decision by current President Dmitry Medvedev to pass a bill to the Russian parliament (“Duma”) allowing the governors of Russian regions to be elected directly in the future has also caused unrest in the various provinces, where a governor sometimes has more political power than the chairman of the respective provincial government. Accordingly, there are also tensions among many officials in charge of various ministries and other governmental institutions at federal level and in the regions of the vast empire. On the face of it Putin is a shoe-in, but below the surface, particularly in the provinces, the situation is more complex.
Thomas P. Reiter is Managing Director, BERLIN communications Public Affairs, our partner in Berlin (www.berlincommunications.eu)