At the end of my last blog, I mentioned that Russia’s doping scandals have caught the world’s attention, if only for a moment (and have probably now been forgotten since the Olympics are concluded). However, as I implied earlier, Russia is not a country that should be ignored, although, given the problems that exist at home, it is easy to do. For those who keep track of the news, the Russian elections were recently held, and Vladimir Putin won by an enormous margin over his few competitors.
Although Putin and Russia might not seem to be the biggest story, especially given the headline-generating power of North Korea and Kim Jong-Un, it seems to me, as I look at sources, that overall, Russia is a much greater threat. They have significantly greater military and economic power and have already demonstrated a willingness, under Putin, to expand their power outside their borders (recall the annexation of Ukraine). But let’s briefly discuss the election and what it could mean for the future of Russia and Russia’s relations with the world.
First, there have been hundreds of accusations of voter fraud leveled against the Russian government during this election including everything from large quantities of ballots being forced into boxes by election officials to ballots being found in the boxes before voting had even begun. Will this hurt Putin’s reputation? In Russia, this is unlikely. If we neglect the accusations of voting fraud and the impact they could have had on the election, the most accurate calculations state that Putin won the election with a massive 76% of the popular vote. Despite the importance of the story of tampering with the election results, it is doubtful that it changed the outcome of the election. Putin is undeniably popular in Russia, and even without the results being effected, would most likely have won by a large margin. Having covered the basics of the election, what effects could Putin’s re-election have on Russia, both at home and in its international relations?
To begin this discussion, let’s look at Russia’s military presence. If military spending is given as a percent of GDP, Russia outspends all other nations including the United States. Additionally, Putin has been clear about his desire to make Russia a military superpower and even recently announced the development of new nuclear warheads that could avoid current missile defense technology. Although it is doubtful, at least in my opinion, that these warheads would ever be used, some of Putin’s past decisions indicate that he is not afraid to use Russia’s military power.
Although Putin has succeeded in improving the overall economic condition of Russia, he attempts to dissuade the population from focusing upon material things and to instead focus upon defending Russia from foreign threats and building up Russia’s international power. This emphasis is evidenced by his massive military spending and by the popularity boost he experiences whenever he describes Russia’s strength. He is heavily nationalistic – Russia comes first. It also does not appear as though Putin has much in the way of a moral compass – take for example that he has supported many brutal dictators in the Middle East.
So what is the overall effect of Putin’s re-election? The next six years will tell. But if there is one take away from this blog post, it is this: don’t ignore Russia.