Only time will tell whether Vladimir Putin’s third presidency (2012-?) will be better or worse than his first two (2000-2008). Today, we can at least say that in the past two months, Putin has become better presidential candidate. Take a look. In 2000, all Putin’s election campaign activities were limited to publishing a short (2,700 words) article in three newspapers. The same in 2004: Putin’s whole campaigning was reduced to addressing a group of the trusted representatives with a 3,200-word speech one month before the election.
Not this time. As a candidate, Putin has published seven lengthy assays outlining his views: on risks facing the country (3,400 words), on ethnic relations (3,600), on the economy (4,900), on democratic development (4,000), on social issues (6,500), on national security (6,300), and on foreign affairs (6,000). He held public meetings with supporters, election observers, and members of the All-Russia People’s Front; he crisscrossed Russia shaking hands with regular voters. Massive pro-Putin rallies have been organized in Moscow, St. Petersburg and all around the country. Putin took part in one of them, at the Luzhniki Stadium, where he called on his supporters to be ready to die for Russia’s independence. (If judged from TV coverage of the event, many in the audience were ready.) At certain point, his election campaign seemed to even contemplate the idea of letting Putin to directly debate his opponents on live TV. Eventually, the idea has been scrapped, and instead, the details of the Putin assassination plot hit the news.
This week, Putin held his final meeting with the trusted representatives, members of the Front, political scientists and the media. He also gave an interview to editors-in-chief of six foreign newspapers. Taken together, both events can be viewed as a closing argument of Putin’s election campaign.
These events also showed that despite visible improvements, Putin the candidate still has his weaknesses. One of them is a poor ability to hold his ground under pressure: after being repeatedly asked by foreign journalists about the reasons behind his job “swap” with Medvedev, Putin got defensive and began dodging the question by lengthy referrals to previous successes of his economic policies. (Surprisingly enough, Putin had no proper answer to the same question when asked, in much friendlier manner, by the member of the Public Chamber Anatoly Kucherena.) Besides – and very uncharacteristically for the prime minister with his trade-mark command of facts and numbers – Putin made a couple of avoidable mistakes. He called, twice, the governor of the Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, a representative of the Right Cause party (Belykh used to be Chairman of the Union of Right Forces). Putin also opined that the Right Cause party has moved into the camp of “irreconcilable” opposition, a surprising note given the fact that the Right Cause has endorsed Putin for presidency.
All this doesn’t matter anymore: tomorrow Putin will be elected president in the first round of the vote and may never use his skills as presidential candidate again. And in two short months, he’ll resume the leadership of the country whose stability he promised to uphold. Did it occur to him that he might have undermined this stability by deciding to become presidential candidate?