Perceptions of Strength and Stability in Russia

Not a day goes by without some columnist, reporter, or editor in the global media talking about the “resurgence“, the “nascent strength“, and the West’s uncertainty of how to deal with the new “strong Russia.” But how does all the hyperbole measure up to the perceptions of stability within Russia? Is there a gap between how strong the West believes Russia is and how confident the Russians actually feel? In the past we have posted on the increasing reverse capital flows as a sign of rising political risk, and today, a report in the FT further elaborates on how succession doubts are creating problems in the Kremlin. Putin_painting.jpg

Putin succession doubts unsettle the Kremlin By Quentin Peel … Yet the mood in Moscow is far less confident than the government’s international image would imply. It is both nationalist and defensive. The reason seems to be that speculation about Mr Putin’s succession in 2008 is starting to destabilise the political establishment. It was ever thus in Russia, before and after the revolution. The factions are starting to squabble in the opaque power struggle that will nominate a new tsar. On the face of it, everything is under control. United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that controls the State Duma, combines the resources of the central government and the (Putin-appointed) governors of the Russian regions to see off any serious opposition in next year’s parliamentary elections. The parties of the liberal right are in disarray, tainted by identification with the painful economic reforms of the 1990s. To contain the challenge of the ageing but still vigorous Communist party, the Kremlin has inspired the creation of a new party, Russia of Justice, to occupy the ground on the centre-left. On the far right, there is still the xenophobic Liberal Democratic party, founded by Vladimir Zhirinovsky in 1990 with the support of the KGB. It is all very well “managed”, precisely because fears linger of a social revolt from the provinces, where little of Russia’s energy cash has been spent. But the presidential election in March 2008 matters most: that will determine who controls oil and gas after Mr Putin, if he quits as he seems determined to do. … So far, Mr Putin is resisting all efforts to persuade him to stay, but the pressures are mounting. He has promised to remain closely involved – but Russia has never been run successfully with a division of power in the Kremlin.So the speculation remains. That is why they would like to blame dark foreign forces.