Vladimir Putin was re-elected to the presidency of Russia with 71.2% of the votes, leading the Communist Party leader Nikolaj Kharitonov by more than 57 points. Despite the climate of tension caused by the repeated attacks of the Chechen guerrillas, Putin’s victory was taken for granted in all the polls, given the lack of real opposition and the widespread sharing of the central points of the policy supported by the president: firm fight against terrorism and acceleration of the pace of economic growth.
The uncertainties of the picture
When the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, no one could have asserted with absolute certainty that the new map, drawn by the tumultuous events of summer and autumn, was destined to last over time. Of the fifteen heirs of the USSR, the Russian Republic was by far the largest, most powerful and richest. But it was also a mosaic of ethnic groups, languages, religions, republics and autonomous regions. According to many observers, Moscow would have tried to restore its authority over the territories that had long belonged to the sphere of influence of the Russian state. According to others, the new Russia (it too, like the USSR, a federal state) would have been afflicted by the centrifugal forces that had destroyed the Soviet Union. The two analyzes were contradictory,
In the following years, Russia maintained military bases in some former Soviet republics and used a particularly effective tool (energy supplies) to restore its authority especially in Belarus, the Caucasus and Central Asia. But he had to face secessionist pressures, of which the Chechen one was the most dangerous, and tolerate that the governors of the federated republics farthest from the center of the state managed their territory as a personal fiefdom. The situation was further complicated by the troubles of a country that in those years had to build and test a new political system, dismantle the ‘command economy’, privatize a large part of the industrial apparatus, face the social consequences of a
Since then, some uncertainties have been dispelled and some parts of the map have acquired greater stability. The three Baltic republics have definitively left the Russian orbit by joining NATO (April 2004) and the European Union (1 May of the same year). Ukraine strengthened its independence from Russia by agreeing to participate in the American war in Iraq. Belarus is now almost entirely under the protective wing of the Moscow government. Moldova enjoys precarious sovereignty and must tolerate the presence of Russian troops in a province (Transdniestria) inhabited mainly by Russians and Ukrainians. Russian troops are also present in Georgia, where they exploit the secessionist forces of recent years, and in Central Asia, but in somewhat different conditions from those of the 1990s. Today, unlike what happened then, the Russian presence is clashing with an increasingly evident and aggressive American presence.
The change is due, paradoxically, to a factor that had made Russian-American relations more cordial between 2001 and 2002: the United States war against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. The evolution of relations between the two countries over the past three years deserves a brief analysis. It will serve to understand the political strategy of Vladimir Putin, president since March 2000.