The fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War brought with it a renewed hope and optimism for a democratic and free Eastern Europe. Even within Russia, there was hope that ideals of liberty and equality would triumph over the ghosts of bygone Communist rule under a series of dictators. The reality, of course, is not so simple. Since the formation of the Russian Federation, there have only been 3 Presidents. In order of first attaining the title, they are- Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Dmitry Medvedev.
Of the three, the most recognisable face is that of Putin’s. He is undeniably the defacto autocratic leader of the Russian State, with Medvedev’s presidency considered a proxy leadership controlled by Putin that was used to bypass laws that prevented him from serving 3 consecutive terms. To understand how the United Russia party has systematically ensured the restriction of democracy in the Russian state apparatus, one merely has to look at Putin’s past. Harlow Robinson of Northeastern University captured it best when he said, “Putin is entirely a creature of the Soviet system; he was previously a high-ranking KGB officer and he rules very much in that spirit.”
Consequently, the Vladimir Putin legacy is one of political intimidation, rampant corruption in bureaucracy and of course, the systematic destruction of freedom of speech and expression. Recently, a comedian, Aleksandr Dolgopolov, fled Russia due to the threat of his life because of remarks supposedly critical of the regime. Within the confines of Russia, no one is allowed to speak ill of the leader. In the intervening period between his presidencies, when Medvedev was in power, it was hoped that Russia would move away from the autocratic leader. However, a series of international failures emboldened Putin to return with a greater mandate as his cult of personality became entwined with Russia’s performance as an influence wielding superpower in the international community.
Recently, Putin proposed a series of reforms to government that, on the face of it, reduce the concentration of power in the hands of the President. The optics of such a move seem promising until one realises that this is just the latest in a series of powerplays undertaken by the man to ensure his influence extends beyond 2024. By empowering the Duma (Parliament), he is said to be ensuring his return as a power-wielding Prime Minister in the next elected government. Coupled with his meddling in the American elections, it is clear that Vladimir Putin has no intention of letting power go. For the people of Russia and proponents of democracy, this is a dark sign. Protests have rocked Moscow since the year 2012, but the powers that be seem to bent on crushing them rather than giving way.