The Foreign Service Journal, April 2007

NATO expansion. The bottom line is that Putin is not prepared to have his country play second fiddle to anyone. The Price of Stability I do not anticipate any significant changes in Moscow’s current poli- cies, domestic or diplomatic, during the remainder of Putin’s time in office. But what is the outlook for Russian society after his departure from the presidency next year? Certainly Putin has tightened the screws on the political system since he took office, putting any march toward a Western-style democracy on hold. In its place, there is stability — but for how long? “Russia is today a kind of plebiscite democracy, where one-man rule is preserved through democratic institu- tions,” analyst Vitaly Tretyakov observes. “But as long as there is stability, people will be primed to trust this man, and only this man.” The fact is that Russians appear to have a more opti- mistic view of their future than they did seven years ago. And to a large degree, Putin’s presidency is the rea- son. “There is a totally different mood in the country from what we had seven years ago,” says the schol- ar Vyacheslav Nikonov. “Everyone was sunk in depression after all the disasters and humiliations of the 1990s. Today there is optimism. The country is moving ahead, and we have things to be proud of again.” It is worth noting, however, that Putin is betting on the high price of Russia’s oil exports and the prosperity they bring as the basis for a stable political system. If the economy should collapse, or if another catastrophe should hit Russia, the progress that Nikonov cites could turn into stagnation, with all the political unknowns that such a situation could trigger. F O C U S 24 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / A P R I L 2 0 0 7 To paraphrase Stalin, Putin believes Western democracy would fit the Russian people like a saddle fits a cow.