In-Depth Report: The Putin Factor

In the wake of accusations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. elections, the greatest uncertainty of 2017 is Putin’s next move.

By Peter Bjel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon celebrate his seventeenth year in power. He presides over an increasingly rigid and globally assertive regime that is feared and misunderstood in equal measure. Putin stands for re-election in March 2018 and will almost certainly win, meaning his mandate can be expected to continue until 2024. Thereafter, it is not known if he will carry out a repeat of 2008—switching his position from President to Prime Minister to circumnavigate Russia’s two-consecutive-terms limit for presidents—or if other arrangements will be made.

The state of Russia, its so-called ‘Near Abroad’, and the world under Putin is a far cry from what was predicted by the lofty optimism that surrounded Russia’s emergence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Initially, it was believed the country was undergoing a transition to a liberal democracy, the free market, and the rule of law. Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratically elected president, presided over the peak of Russian democracy, but also set in motion circumstances leading to its undoing and eclipse under Putin.

At home and abroad, bringing the country back from its collapse and turning it into a twenty-first century superpower drives Putin’s political agenda. It has also justified his regime’s increasing authoritarianism and systematic erosion of democratic pretenses. Decades of Western policies isolating, containing, and marginalizing Russia—justified or not—have emboldened this process. Now, both the precarious state of the European Union and the uncertain future of NATO brought about by Donald Trump’s election in the U.S. have opened up the geopolitical chessboard for Putin’s next move. Under his watch, Russia is poised to recrudesce.

Russian Hackers

In the wake of America’s presidential election, repeated reports emerged that Putin and Russia had successfully intervened in the electoral process. Russian involvement in the election—rumored to have been supervised by Putin himself—would be the first time in U.S. history that an election has been subject to foreign interference. In December, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded with “high confidence” that Russia meddled in the later stages of the presidential campaign. Its intent was to mar Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances against Republican Party contender, and now President-Elect, Donald Trump. “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected … That’s the consensus view,” stated a senior U.S. official anonymously to the Washington Post.

The two groups suspected to have been behind the hacks that began last year had previously targeted …

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