Thursday, August 25, 2016


'It's Going To Be Messy' -- Edward Lucas On Putin's Return

Edward Lucas suggests Putin will have a tough time sustaining his strongman image during his third term as president.
Edward Lucas suggests Putin will have a tough time sustaining his strongman image during his third term as president.
Now that Vladimir Putin has secured a third term in the Kremlin, what can we expect from him? RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore spoke to veteran Russia-watcher Edward Lucas, a longtime correspondent for the British weekly "The Economist" and author of "Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Dupes The West."

RFE/RL: As expected, Vladimir Putin has won another term in the Kremlin. But the opposition appears undeterred and is set to stage a protest in Moscow on March 5. Where do you see things going from here?

Edward Lucas: I think Putin has won the battle but he's lost the war. And he's lost the war in two senses. The promises he made in the election campaign are unsustainable. He can't deliver them with oil at $110 a barrel, so he is going to be disappointing his supporters. He's also lost the war [in] that he can't convince the protesters that Russia is on track toward modernization and a pluralistic political system.

RFE/RL: What do you see happening in terms of Russia's relations with the West with Putin returning as president?

Lucas: I think the question for the West is whether the anti-Westernism we saw in the campaign, both in the speech in Luzhniki Stadium and the article in "Moskovskie novosti" was just tactical for the purpose of whipping up his supporters or whether it was the real Putin revealing himself.

RFE/RL: Which do you think it was?

Lucas: I think it is his default setting and I think it was concealed under Medvedev. I think he realized things got a bit out of control in 2007 and 2008 and he wanted a softer approach. Medvedev did that very well and they got the reset [with the United States] and other things they wanted.

Russia analyst Edward LucasRussia analyst Edward Lucas
Russia analyst Edward Lucas
Russia analyst Edward Lucas
But I think Putin's own cast of mind is inherently anti-Western and it is something he resorts to under pressure as we saw after [the September 2004 hostage crisis in] Beslan. I think we'll be seeing more of that rather than less.

RFE/RL: Many in the elite, like former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, have stressed to Putin the need for reforms such as diversifying the economy away from its dependence on oil and gas and opening up the political system. Do you see any chance of this happening?

Lucas: If he was really going to reform, he had eight years with unlimited power and unlimited amounts of money [from 2000-08] and he didn't reform then.

He also had another four years [during Dmitry Medvedev's presidency] with someone who at least talked the talk of reformism supposedly in the driver's seat and it didn't happen then either. So I find it hard to imagine it is going to happen now.

RFE/RL: What signs should we be looking at for clues to what direction Putin will likely try to take the country?

We will see on the outside with the formation of the government a little bit of what is going on. Is it going to be dinosaurs and concrete heads coming in, or people who are superficially liberal like Kudrin?

But the real struggle is going to be behind the scenes because the people around Putin and behind Putin are going to feel quite fed up about this. They have created a kind of looting machine that gives them tens of billions of dollars in both natural-resource and bureaucratic rents and they don't want that to stop.

RFE/RL: Are there any other obstacles to reform?

Lucas: The fundamental point is that any real reform will have to include the rule of law and open media. And as soon as you have the rule of law and open media you will get very difficult questions about Mr. Putin and his close associates.

How did they get so rich? Where did all the money go and who killed all these people? As soon as you get a political system that is open not just in a sham sense but in a real one, people are going to ask these questions and want answers.

RFE/RL: The elite appears to be deeply divided over the issue of reform, access, and influence. What are the implications of this?

Lucas: The elite has never been united. There have always been deep divisions. It's a bit like a wolf pack. They all bite each other, but they all follow the chief. Now the chief is looking a bit old and mangy.

So now some in the wolf pack are wondering if they want to become chief or if they would be worse off if someone else becomes chief. As usual there is a lot of pushing and shoving behind the scenes, but a bit more now because Putin is looking weak.

RFE/RL: The protest movement appears to still have a lot of momentum and the picture you paint is that of an elite that is unlikely to bend. So what should we expect to see going forward?

Lucas: I think it is going to be messy. The opposition is too weak to win. I don't think [the authorities] have the capabilities to do a real crackdown.

I don't think the authorities can put them down. So I think we'll have a long and inconclusive tug-of-war. The big question is: What tricks do the authorities play to try to get out of it?
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Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 05, 2012 13:22
"As expected, Vladimir Putin has won another term in the Kremlin."

Simply not true! Just weeks ago, it was "expected" that Putin would be forced into a runoff. Now, he's won in an easy landslide that OSCE observers said was generally positive.

"I think Putin has won the battle but he's lost the war."

How many times have we heard this? It's nothing more than wishful thinking. He will rule Russia for the rest of his life without serious opposition because a majority of Russians support his malignant policies. It's a shame you cannot be more honest in calling the people of Russia to account for their reckless support of the KGB and its brutal policies.

by: Michael Dokshin from: Perm, Russia
March 05, 2012 13:29
It's better a pack of wolves than a pack of poodles.
In Response

by: Frank
March 05, 2012 14:47
It would be more "messy" if Russia had a leader who neocon to neolib types like Edward Lucas prefer.

By definition, being against some core neocon to neolib views (especially in foreign policy) isn't "anti-Western."

This thought reltaes well to Putin's actual views of the West.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 05, 2012 14:53
Hi, Michael, could you be a little more explicit on who the "wolves" and who the "poodles" here are?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 05, 2012 15:19
VIDEO - an interesting interview with Pepe Escobar (in English) on the reelection of V. Putin:

by: Bogomir Lookoff (Jeff) from: Moscow
March 05, 2012 19:46
We, Russian democratic opposition, are preparing a draft of Lustration Law. This Law will demand from the candidate to state or municipal office to open for public belonging to the Communist Party or the KGB-FSB. Citizens are entitled to know that their mayor, police chief, the Minister of Health, the school director or the Chief doctor of the hospital supported this ideology and promoted it.
The Art of Strategy is the ability to wait. After March 2012, when “the Iron Curtain” will only have a small hole, we'll find support of the millions. We are not in a hurry. We are building a NEW RUSSIA. Suppose that it is decades away.
Russia has the right to a civilization as well as all the countries. Our children and grandchildren need a “New life” in an evolutionary way - through work, respect, tolerance, equity and spirituality. Drive efficiency 100% (CPD 100%)!

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 05, 2012 20:25
Nice report and some true sentences amidst the spleen. Mr. Lucas may be guilty, however, of wishful thinking when it comes to the Russian budget and oil prices. Brent crude is currently at about $125 a barrel, and with likely tensions in the ME and another 20 million Chinese buying cars this year, the price is only going to go up.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
March 06, 2012 18:19
...and if he does have to overspend, he can just borrow it from the Chinese like the West does. The US and the UK have debt to GDP ratios of around 80%, so this is another case of the kettle calling the pot black. Not smart long-term thinking, but he could do it if necessary... The "show of force' by the opposition last night was also feeble to say the least.
In Response

by: David Curp
March 09, 2012 09:59
The problem Marko is that few banks would be foolish enough to loan to the Russians. From the Chinese perspective, the US and even Europe are safe bets for a good return on their loans. Russia is not and will not be such a good bet as long as property-rights and the rule of law are dead letters.

by: Victor
March 05, 2012 22:12
Was he ever gone?

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