In this opinion piece, Viviane du Castel surveys the current political and geostrategic situation in Russia following the overwhelming re-election of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation.
While representative democracy seems to be in a poor way, with opposition parties marginalized and the freedom of the press increasingly threatened, the economy is at a crossroads. A temporary halt to market reforms and a gradual "sovietization" of big industry is accompanied by major uncertainties generated by the clash between the Kremlin and the so-called oligarchs, who are seen as too powerful and too independent. Viviane du Castel discusses the range of options available to Putin during his second term, in which he holds all the political reins in his hands.
In terms of foreign policy, Russia's position today hardly differs from what it was under the Czars: it has to combine its ambitions vis-à-vis the West (i.e. Europe and the United States), the East (mainly China) and what the Russians still call "the near abroad", which this old imperial power cannot disregard for very long. Moreover, the Russian gambit towards China, the European Union and the Atlantic alliance - all now on its borders - can be seen clearly both in its direct international relations and in its actions in those areas that have often been viewed as an essential part of its outer defences: Kaliningrad, Moldavia, Ukraine, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia remain the preferred regions where Russia exercises its muscle. Energy issues, for example, are a good indicator of Moscow's degree of influence on policy.
The real challenge for the country now is to achieve a balance among these three regional power games so as to maximize Russia's role and international influence.
Viviane du Castel provides here the keys to understanding the issues facing a Russian President who seeks to restore his office to the central role within the "vertical" power hierarchy that he wants to re-establish in the anarchic Federation that Russia is today.