Editorial: Landslide victory of President Putin raises further concern about “Strong Russia”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has won reelection and will serve his fourth term as president. Including the period that he served as prime minister, his long-term rule will likely reach a quarter-century by the time this term comes to an end in 2024. Mr. Putin promoted a “Strong Russia” by displaying a confrontational approach toward EU nations and the United States, attracting the support of the Russian people by appealing to their patriotism.

However, with the Russian economy suffering a slowdown, there is still deep frustration in that country. Tensions with the United States and the European Union have grown increasingly serious because of Russia’s suspected interference in the U.S. presidential election and an attack on a former member of Russia’s intelligence agency, which took place in the United Kingdom. Moving forward, Mr. Putin’s presidency will be tested with such challenges as whether he will continue to take a hard line and how will sustain his power to rule over the Russian people.

After he won the election, Mr. Putin called for unity from Moscow, saying, “Great success lies ahead for Russia. In Russia’s name, let us achieve greatness.”

His strongman pose was apparent during his campaign for reelection. He forced through Crimea’s incorporation from Ukraine to Russia, and persisted on a hardline stance despite objections from EU nations and the United States. Voting in Crimea was then scheduled in the fourth year after its incorporation. Last week, Mr. Putin visited Crimea and stressed that this incorporation has been one of his important accomplishments.

While Mr. Putin’s reelection was certain, given that he was the only competitive candidate, it seems that he wanted to herald the legitimacy of his administration by being reelected with a strong turnout and a high percentage of the vote. While the opposition group campaigned for Russian citizens to boycott the election, Mr. Putin pursued efforts to encourage people to vote.

As a result, he won a landslide victory by gaining around 76% of the vote. He overwhelmed the other candidates, including the candidate from the Communist Party. Because his share of the vote in this election was greater than the roughly 64% of the vote he received in the previous presidential election in 2012, Mr. Putin boasted in his victory speech that the elections results had demonstrated the high trust that the Russian people have for him. Since a large number of people also have high expectations for a stable government, it is true that Mr. Putin could strengthen his political base. However, moves to eliminate his opponents were evident this time as well. For example, the candidacy of the opposition party’s leader, who repeatedly led anti-government demonstrations, was rejected. Mr. Putin’s opponents have questioned the validity of the election, arguing that voting fraud took place.

Mr. Putin, who was originally from the country’s intelligence agency, has ruled his nation with an iron fist by doing whatever he feels will maintain his grip on power. His authoritarian approach has made democracy a mere facade, and cast a shadow both on domestic politics and international diplomacy. He is said to have been involved in the nerve-agent attack on a former member of the Russian intelligence agency, which occurred in the United Kingdom.

Domestically, there is growing frustration among the Russian people over the sluggish economy. The incorporation of Crimea was met by economic sanctions by both the European Union and the United States. Mr. Putin’s hard-line policy will only lead to deepening isolation, not a breakthrough for better relations.

Mr. Putin even boasted about the development of advanced strategic nuclear weapons, which are supposedly symbolic of “Strong Russia.” At the annual State of the Union address he made in early March, he announced that Russia had succeeded in developing new types of nuclear weapons, including an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

Saying that Russia’s new ICBM cannot be intercepted by the U.S. missile defense shield, Mr. Putin declared that the United States had failed to contain Russia. Such a statement only unnecessarily heightens tensions between these two nations. And from the perspective of advancing the elimination of nuclear arms, this move undermines that aim. Considering the fact that Russia is expected to push North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, Mr. Putin’s irresponsible attitude is appalling.

At the same time, Russia and Japan are involved in a dispute over northern territories. With Russia becoming alarmed over the introduction of the Aegis Ashore, the land-based missile intercept system made by the United States, this issue has grown more complicated. We call on Russia to take part in bilateral negotiations to resolve the issue, focusing on joint economic activities, without linking this to security concerns.

In neighboring China, the provision for term limits on the president has been lifted, which will allow the president to rule that nation for some time. Chinese politics and muscle-flexing by the government may result in further crackdowns on its citizens and rising diplomatic tensions. It is vital to continue calling for a turnaround in international affairs and stressing the importance of international cooperation.

(Originally published on March 20, 2018)