Vladimir Putin has been officially made Russia’s president for a fourth time in a ceremony that many regard as confirming his desire to be likened to the Tsars. Lavish ceremonials and expensive backdrops to videos of the lead up to his accession leave one in no doubt of his own sense of importance and his conviction that he is owed the gratitude of Russia for restoring the country to its former position as a world power.
From the earliest of times Russia seems to have needed strong, absolute, leadership. Some regard the attempts by Tsar Nicholas II to try introducing a more modern style of governance to have been the real reason he was toppled. More recently, the modernising efforts of Gorbachev and Yeltsin were also set aside as Russians turned to a new strong-man to re-impose order: Mr Putin.
That is not to say that the veneer of democracy is not important. In his inauguration speech Mr Putin stated:
“We need breakthroughs in all areas of life. I am deeply convinced that such a leap forward can only be secured with a free society that accepts all that is new and advanced.”
However, Moscow, which is the centre of the most sophisticated elements of Modern Russian society, is not convinced by this sort of rhetoric. Demonstrations have been going on in the city for months leading up to the elections, with many accusing the Putin government of rigging the campaign as well as the ballots. Some election officials have been filmed quite blatantly stuffing the ballot boxes with little apparent concern about who might be watching.
International monitoring agencies have confirmed many of the allegations about irregularities during the campaign and elections and some now call Russia a “Managed Democracy”. Its main aim seems to be the exclution any real threats to the status-quo of the current elite; examples include the arrest and subsequent barring from the elections of Putin’s only real political rival, Alexei Navalny on the grounds of what many believe were false charges of embezzlement.
By 2024, the end of this, his fourth term, Mr Putin will have been in power as prime-minister or president for 24 years – not far short of the time that Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. For many the parallel is more than superficial: large sectors of society still look back on Stalin’s time with fondness and see Mr Putin as re-connecting the country with the era of “Uncle Joe”.