BETH THOMPSON - 24 SEPTEMBER 2011
On the 24th of September 2011, the governing party in Russia announced that current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would be their candidate for President of Russia. United Russia, the largest party of the world's largest country, held their annual party congress in Moscow this weekend. The 11,000 party members present stood and cheered as current President Dmitri Medvedev made the formal announcement. Mr. Medvedev is in line to become Prime Minister if – though the correct word may be when – Mr. Putin wins the Presidential election in March 2012.
It all amounts to, essentially, a role reversal in the two top positions in the Russian government. Mr. Putin, who served as President from 2000-2008 before becoming Prime Minister, would be returning to a familiar job amidst potentially different circumstances if he wins the election as expected in March. After the tumultuous decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin oversaw a consolidation of government power that brought stability back to the lives of many Russians. The average standard of living rose across the country, and contributed to his increаsed popularity. At the same time, proponents of democracy in Russia worried that his governing methods were preventing the development of truly democratic institutions and practices. United Russia continues to be the only major party in Russia, despite the efforts of its critics. The result, some argue, has been an increase in apathy among the Russian people about their political leaders, provided that their standard of living continues to rise.
Mr. Putin will face new challenges if he begins a third term as President in the spring. The oil wealth that has propelled the rise in the average standard of living is not as evident it once was, and Russia has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. Tough decisions will test Mr. Putin's once untestable popularity, and perhaps provide a reason for ordinary Russians to become more involved and invested in their politics once again.
To those who follow Russian politics, and to the Russians themselves, the announcement Saturday was not a surprise. Though President Medvedev occasionally went against Prime Minister Putin on policy matters, there was never more than a slight doubt that it would be Putin calling the shots when it came to this election. There were some who had harbored a hope – a hope that bordered on delusional, others would say – for a challenge between the two and a new party under Mr. Medvedev. Those hopes have now been officially dashed, as Mr. Putin said that an "agreement" about what to do regarding this election was "reached between us several years ago..." What this 'agreement' will mean for the future of democracy in Russia, and for the lives of the Russian people, remains to be seen.