MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin marked a year since his election to a third term yesterday riding a tide of popularity despite his crackdown on political freedoms and tense ties with the United States.
The 60-year-old former KGB spy won an overwhelming 63.6 percent of the vote in March 4 elections that included a weak field of candidates who refused to challenge Putin on any issue.
He had been serving as former president Dmitry Medvedev’s prime minister for four years before the two agreed to swap seats in an arrangement that could theoretically extend Putin’s rule to over two decades.
Putin’s election was preceded by the first tide of large anti-Kremlin protests in the post-Soviet era and included the rise of young opposition stars — many making their name through social networks — who dreamed of challenging Putin in 2018.
The Russian leader’s response was swift upon his election: the Kremlin rammed through parliament laws threatening protesters with huge fines and branding groups with funding from abroad as “foreign agents” — the local term for a spy.
“Because his position weakened, his politics hardened,” INDEM political research institute analyst Yury Korgunyuk said in an interview.
“As our society splintered, Putin acted to minimise the emerging threat,” Humanitarian and Political Studies Institute analyst Vladimir Slatinov agreed.
Putin blamed the protests directly on funding from the US State Department — a charge that only further marred relations already hurt by Moscow’s decision to veto UN sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Yet this was only the start of the diplomatic sparring. The two sides’ relations very soon began plumbing the lows they experienced during Putin’s first stint in power between 2000 and 2008. AFP