Monday,19 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)
Monday,19 November, 2018
Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Russia resurgent

The landslide victory of Russian President Vladimir Putin in this week’s Russian presidential elections leaves the country poised for an ever-greater role in international affairs, writes Gamal Nkrumah

 

Russia resurgent
Russia resurgent

There was never any question that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who won over 76 per cent of the vote in the presidential elections in Russia this week, would not triumph in the polls. The question was how large the margin between Putin and his nearest rival was going to be. It turned out to be a colossal one.

The result has given Putin a mandate to rule Russia for another six years. Perhaps he will also want to rule the country for six years after that. Putin has been in power for the past 18 years, and now he will remain in power until 2024.

The Russian opposition seems to have run out of steam. Six years ago there was a wave of protest demonstrations when Putin won the presidential elections. The economy of Russia is now smaller than that of Spain. Yet, 80 per cent of Russians approve of Putin, meaning that he continues to be hugely popular.

What is glaringly clear is that no Russian opposition figures enjoy the popularity of Putin with the Russian people, nor do they have anything like his charisma. It was against this backdrop that the presidential elections were held, with, as Putin putting it after his landslide victory, the result reflecting the “confidence and hope” of the Russian people. 

The Russian economy is dependent on oil and gas, and the country has the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas. This amounts to some 50 per cent of state revenues and accounts for 70 per cent of Russian exports. Russia is by far the world’s largest natural gas exporter, and it produced an average of 10.83 million barrels of oil per day in December 2015, around 12 per cent of the world’s oil and with a similar share of global exports.

Russia also has the world’s largest volume of still-undiscovered natural gas at some 6.7 trillion cubic metres. 

Yet, the Russian economy has suffered two consecutive years of recession, and this has taken its toll on the population, particularly in rural areas. There are signs that the economy is enjoying higher rates of growth, and Putin has promised to help the Russians improve their standard of living.

Various companies compete for the oil and gas industry in Russia, the largest being Rosneft followed by Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz, Gazprom Neft and Tatneft. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run natural gas monopoly, is the world’s biggest gas exploration and production company.

Russia is classified as an upper-middle mixed economy with state ownership in strategic areas. The country boasts a robust aircraft manufacturing sector, a critically important industry, which employs around 355,300 people. The IT market is one of the most dynamic sectors of the Russian economy.

Russia likewise has a large and sophisticated arms industry that it partially inherited from the former Soviet Union. The country’s arms industry is capable of designing and manufacturing high-tech military equipment, including a fifth-generation fighter jet, nuclear powered submarines, firearms and short-range and long-range ballistic missiles.

Many world leaders congratulated Putin on his landslide electoral triumph. The China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership is an example of the new power Russia has found in the world after the dark years following the collapse of the former Soviet Union. It “sets an example for building a new type of international relations,” Chinese President Xi Jinping declared after the results of the Russian polls were declared in a congratulatory message to Putin.

“China is willing to work with Russia to keep promoting China-Russia relations to a higher level, providing a driving force for national development in both countries, and promoting regional and global peace and tranquility,” the Chinese leader proclaimed.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani congratulated Putin on his “decisive victory” in the elections. Iran is seeking closer political and economic ties with Russia, and Rouhani said in his message to Putin that “I am sure that during your new term relations between our two countries will develop further.”

Russia is one of the few countries that enjoy excellent relations with both Iran and its rival Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman sent a cable of congratulations to Putin on his re-election, wishing him “constant good health and happiness and his people steady progress and prosperity.”

Latin American nations also warmly congratulated Putin. Venezuela has borrowed billions from Russia, and last November Moscow agreed to restructure the $3.1 billion in debt that Venezuela owes Moscow. Bolivian President Evo Morales said that Russia “respects the dignity of peoples and guarantees the geopolitical balance and world peace before the onslaughts of imperialism.”

The reaction to Putin’s spectacular electoral victory was, in sharp contrast, lukewarm elsewhere. The Kremlin has been accused by Western European nations of supporting the rise of populist, anti-establishment parties in Europe. It is also under economic sanctions by the Western nations after its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

British-Russian relations have hit an all-time low following the attempted murder of a former Russian double-agent on British soil in early March. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said last Monday that it was “highly likely” that Moscow had been to blame for the poisoning of the former Russian spy attacked with a nerve agent near his home in southern England.

Western European nations pointed to “irregularities” in the Russian presidential elections, including vote-rigging and the arrest of Putin’s political foes.  

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi wished Putin every success and expressed his hope for “further developing and promoting cooperation on behalf of our two friendly nations.”

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