Supporters of Vladimir Putin are treating his win of the presidential election on 4 March as a foregone conclusion – and they’re probably right. Yet as the old adage goes: “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.” Even as the opposition’s protest movement in Russia continues unabated, Putin remains the most popular politician in the country. He has no strong competitor in this election – according to the latest data from the Levada-Center, Russia’s largest independent polling agency, 63 to 66% of voters who say they are coming to the polls will cast their ballot for Putin. Putin himself has warned that protest rallies following the elections could turn dangerous, because provocateurs from abroad are looking for a “sacrificial lamb” among the famous opposition members. None of this – the numbers, Putin’s own view of the situation – is all that surprising. But what makes for genuine news is that whichever way you cut it, Putin’s third term in the Kremlin is going to be difficult in an unprecedented way; because this much is clear – his government faces an inevitable decline.
In January, political expert Stanislav Belkovsky wrote on OpenSpace.ru that Russia is heading down the path of a second perestroika – and that Putin knows this, the man is no fool. Being in charge of a perestroika is a thankless business. As Belkovsky wisely noted, Soviet citizens did not suddenly gain new love and appreciation for their government when state censorship came to an end, for example. We can see a similar process taking place today – electoral reforms have been introduced in the wake of the protests, but are they placating the opposition? Hell, no.