Russia’s czar, West’s worry – Hindustan Times

Russia’s czar, West’s worry - Hindustan Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin has won yet another presidential election with a landslide margin, with his closest rival securing less than 5% of the votes. He is set to become the longest-serving leader of modern Russia, with a tenure longer than that of Joseph Stalin or Leonid Brezhnev. No doubt he is authoritarian and questions have been raised about the political system in Russia, but the fact is the economic recovery under him and the grandiose idea of a “Great Russia”, are almost a throwback to the imperial Russia of the past rather than the Communist dictatorship of the Soviet Union. This has won him huge support among the Russian masses. The multiple wars he has forced Moscow into are seen by Russians as inevitable in their country’s march to regain past glory under his leadership. That the invasion of Ukraine and western sanctions did not ruin the Russian economy has only bolstered his credentials as a leader within his country. The world now needs to engage with him keeping this context in mind.

Russian presidential candidate and incumbent President Vladimir Putin speaks after polling stations closed, in Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2024.(Reuters)

Three sets of responses to Putin’s re-election reflect the power play in global affairs. The West, predictably, called the election a sham while China and North Korea welcomed the result and promised to work with Moscow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has congratulated Putin, in line with New Delhi’s refusal to endorse the West’s polemics on Putin or to do anything that pushes Russia closer to China. This third way may well offer the space to negotiate peace in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s foreign minister is scheduled to visit New Delhi this month to seek India’s backing for a peace summit. This is an opportunity that New Delhi, as one of the very few world capitals with a bridge to the US, Europe and Russia, could explore with Moscow. No grandstanding by Washington or any other capital can help Kyiv, but the latter could do with a ceasefire as the war in Ukraine appears to have reached a stalemate and a continuation of the conflict will do no good to the global economy.

On Putin’s part, sabre-rattling of the sort that there could be a third World War should NATO confront Moscow directly only diminishes his claim to be the leader who can make Russia great again. It hurts Russian interests in the long run and makes it difficult for friends like India to defend relations with Moscow. Cool heads are needed everywhere.