Time magazine named Vladimir Putin the Person of the Year for his efforts to stabilise the situation in Russia. The Russian business weekly Expert has given him the same title for other merits. In the opinion of this prestigious publication, in 2007 the Russian president's influence was not limited to stabilisation in Russia but stretched far beyond the country's geographical and political borders.
It was in the last year of his presidency that Putin revealed most vividly his features of a policymaker - his readiness to take serious risks, his art to take aback a rival with a mutually advantageous proposal, and his readiness to play alone - all those things that created a real political drive in 2007.
This drive made many people doubt that Putin will leave his presidential position in 2008. The subject of the third term was discussed during the whole year. Doubts were not dispersed even after Dmitry Medvedev was nominated for the presidency. But for Russia this is only natural - after tsars and general secretaries of the Soviet Communist Party, who never left the throne of their own free will and wished to rule for life, we all tend to suspect that any leader would like to rule forever.
But in 2007 Putin made it abundantly clear that he was not going to run for a third term. He was trying to tackle a more important challenge - make some fundamental decisions and take important steps that would define Russia's future policy as a country with European culture and global influence.
The World. Putin's first impressive step in the past year was his Munich speech, in which he defined the main concepts of Russia's foreign policy. He told the West (the U.S. directly and Europe indirectly) that one country cannot dictate its will to all others even with tacit agreement of the majority; that in the modern world stability is only possible if countries are ready to consider the interests of others while implementing their own political strategy; that being aware of tensions in the world, Russia is not going to lose its military-strategic potential. Before Munich, Putin tried to manoeuvre and come to terms with the West. After Munich, Russian strategic aviation resumed regular patrolling of the air space, suspended in the 1990s, and the Russian fleet went on a long-distance mission for the first time in many years. Putin continued this power-backed course later on - in questions on Kosovo, Iran, and North Korea.
Then he made a quick trip to Guatemala to attend a session of the International Olympic Committee, and Sochi was chosen as the venue of the Winter Olympics-2014. This step was risky for Russia and not really necessary, but apparently Putin decided that firm international commitments would help the country's continued mobilisation. Moreover, this was the best advertisement for Russia in the eyes of all rapidly developing nations.
Later Putin took some crucial decisions on the domestic scene. But it is important to emphasise that without these international steps, his domestic policy might have been different. This is instrumental for assessing Putin's policy in Russia. In his understanding, a state should above all play on the global political and economic market and be capable of winning there. A former KGB officer, he understands that foreign policy overrides everything else. Putin realises that Russia with its territory and resources can only be a global player. With his Munich speech and the Olympic project he asserted his understanding of a state by which the future Russian leaders should be guided.
Russia. Having delayed until the last moment, Putin embarked on the successor operation only last autumn. This was not so much a programme for the transfer of power or an attempt to consolidate his party in parliament. The main goal was to strengthen Russia's economic position in the world arena. By carrying out the successor operation abruptly and quickly, he accelerated the formation and consolidation of strategic assets in all spheres vital for foreign policy positioning. In summer, Putin took the decision to set up a Unified Aircraft Corporation and a Unified Shipbuilding Corporation. In autumn, new state corporations - Rostekhnologii (Russian Technologies) and Rosatom (former Federal Atomic Energy Agency) - were established. By the end of the year, consolidation of assets in non-ferrous metals became urgent.
In addition to this, Putin was obviously trying to preserve complete control over Russia's accumulated financial resources. Promotion of the Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin became a clear signal of his firm intention to use the state budget for economic development in accordance with geopolitical ambitions.
Nobody can be absolutely sure that Putin will become prime minister if Medvedev is elected president. As he said recently, he is not sure of this himself. Nobody can guess whether Putin would like to become Russia's president one more time. Some experts believe that Putin will occupy a key position in international politics. But it is already obvious today that this extraordinary man will continue working to promote Russia's influence in the global economic and political system.
With time, economic mechanisms will be playing an increasing role in Russia's global consolidation. The liberal bloc of the Putin team is planning to make the rouble convertible, set up a domestic raw materials exchange and develop the stock market.
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