(Washington, DC--April 18, 2005) In light of the recent popular revolts in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, the sense of political stability surrounding the Administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin has changed. Further, the political prospects do not look good for Putin and his government, according to Ariel Cohen, a Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies with the Heritage Foundation who has just returned from a trip to Moscow. Cohen and fellow Russia expert Donald Jensen, the Director of Communications for RFE/RL, discussed the prospects for Russian governance during a recent briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office.
Cohen said that the primary reason for his new assessment is the widely held perception in Moscow that the Putin administration has monopolized state power, especially in the economic sector. Cohen noted that Putin's March 2004 appointment of Mikhail Fradkov as Prime Minister is often viewed by Moscow insiders as a joke or that Fradkov is someone to be pitied. Further, Putin's economic framework for doubling Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) is turning out to have been unrealistic, which heightens the disappointment of potential foreign investors in Russia and dampens future economic growth.
Cohen said that there was no "Putin route" to address concerns that have been raised about the presidential succession in 2008, the potential for an authoritarian government taking power in Russia, or the growing disconnect that has been observed between the government and its response to important developmental issues, including the depopulation of certain regions, income distribution issues, the lack of investment, and Russia's growing HIV/AIDS crisis. Cohen also noted that a high degree of anti-American sentiment exists in Russia today.
Jensen stated that Putin has not been paying attention to formal politics and that there has been a "general unraveling" of political support for Putin by his government. Jensen went on to discuss the need to find a successor who can address the concerns of Russia's political elite. According to Cohen, a large number of possible candidates remain in contention and no clear outcomes or strategies have emerged, in a succession race that is only just beginning.
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