After serving as prime minister for four years, Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency Monday to begin his third term, as outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev was appointed prime minister for the second time, thus continuing their governing partnership.
Mr. Putin served as president for two terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister. Over the past 12 years, he has succeeded in stabilizing Russian society after the confusing years of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency and in achieving economic growth. Meanwhile, Russia’s presidential term has been extended from four years to six years, meaning that Mr. Putin could potentially serve as president for the next 12 years.
At his inauguration, Mr. Putin declared: “We want and live in a democratic country where everyone has the freedom and ability to apply their talent. We want to live in a successful Russia respected worldwide as a reliable, open, fair and predictable partner.” Clearly this should be the eventual and highest goal for his presidency.
But it appears that people’s antipathy toward Mr. Putin’s authoritarian style of governance has deepened. The day before his inauguration, the police detained more than 400 people at a protest rally near the Kremlin. The police said 8,000 people took part in the rally while the organizers cited 20,000 participants.
In addition to ensuring that democratic rights are upheld, Mr. Putin faces the task of eradicating the corruption that plagues Russian society. If Mr. Putin continues to try to strengthen the central government at the expense of provincial governments and civil society, corruption will likely be exacerbated.
Mr. Medvedev’s primary responsibility will be to modernize the Russian economy by improving the environment for foreign investments and lowering its excessive reliance on natural resource exports. But Mr. Putin’s promise to raise public servants’ wages and protect domestic industries may cause the prime minister financial difficulties. His efforts will also meet opposition from the nation’s conservative security and intelligence establishment.
Mr. Putin is eager to improve ties with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand “in addition” to China, Vietnam and India to facilitate development in eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East. He also aims to strengthen Russian naval power there and in the Arctic. Japan should closely monitor his moves and calculate what approach it should take to resolve the Northern Territories dispute.