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Despite the predictions of a diminished Putin and a shaky Russia in the near future, Putin seems to be fine and to be defying those very predictions. He has certainly demonstrated that he can maintain himself at the top of a gigantic country through turbulent times and difficulties, and has proved to be a master engineer of his own destiny. He is now ready to start on the final phase of his craftily concocted comeback — or perhaps not so final should he decide to run again in 2018, which is very possible, even likely.

Of course, a “strong” Russia in the Western sense needs an entirely different formula: one based on the rule of law, ethics, and respect for human rights, to cite just a few of the essentials. And it is here that the emerging activism of the middle class comes in. But if we assess Putin more objectively than Western observers have tended to do, then the description above still applies.

If this picture looks too gloomy, one may find comfort in the certainty that there will be change in Russia — after Putin.

All in all, I may have sounded overly pessimistic — and I have certainly thrown a bucket of cold water on the West-supported pro-democratic mood and efforts. But if we want to instigate change, it helps to acknowledge where we are with a cool head and face the reality of the difficulties, not deny them, as the U.S. and other foreign media have been doing through biases, misinformation, and embellishments in news reports. American and Western news organizations and independent journalists, I am looking at you, not so much at Putin and the Kremlin, whose tactics are crystal clear by now.

To be followed in 2018. Until then, Russians of all classes and means should make sure they don’t hibernate, despite conductive conditions of déjà-vu in their political landscape. But the recent protests and growing civic awareness and action are certainly proof that they will not.

This article is the last in a series on Russia’s presidential election, popular street protests, and Putin’s new presidency.