Prime Minster Vladimir Putin is running for President again, confirming suspicions that the plan to put Russia’s eight year president back in the saddle has been long in the making. Current President Dmitri Medvedev, Putin’s protégé, announced that he fully supports Putin’s candidacy and will not run for a second term, but take up the post of Prime Minister held by Putin.
Better than swapping wives, but not much.
In his political career, Putin has romanticized the superpower Soviet Union of his youth, reprimanded Secretary of State Clinton in public and, generally, warmed less to the West than his protégé. However, despite fears that Putin’s guaranteed victory will change U.S.-Russian relations, evidence points instead to the maintenance of the status quo.
First, those concerned about that modernization or democratic reforms will be rolled back in Russia should remember that Russia’s democratic accountability decreased, corruption continued unchecked and civil society and judicial independence diminished under Medvedev.
Second, personal relations between President Putin and President Obama will certainly be different, but U.S.-Russia relations are unlikely to sour because of the change. Putin is too pragmatic a leader to damage relationships, such as that with the U.S., that benefit Russia. Moreover, the interaction between Russia and the U.S. is not based on personalities, but national interests.
Third, national interests will not change dramatically with the change of presidents because for the past four years, Putin has made or supported key policy decisions by his protégé. U.S.-Russian cooperation on U.N. sanctions on Iran, Russian-NATO cooperation in Afghanistan and implementation of the New START treaty are likely to continue.
In terms of arms control, the prognosis for progress on future nuclear weapons reductions does not hinge on whether Putin or Medvedev is behind decision-making. As the Brookings Institution’s Steve Pifer recently wrote, “Russia’s strategic approach to arms control with the United States likely will not change.’ Future negotiations with Russia will be challenging because the U.S. and Russia currently appear to want different things, but that would be true under either leader.
When elected, Vladimir Putin could hold the presidency from 2012 to 2024. Thus, it would serve U.S. relations to make the best of the situation while focusing on improving relations and upholding the reset policy.