The return two weeks ago of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency raises more questions than answers.
First, but least important, was the election rigged? Probably, but it is also probable that Putin really is far more popular than any of the other candidates.
So is Putin the best option for Russia? He may have been the best on offer. There may be others who are morally superior, but the lesson of history is that a huge country like Russia needs a strong ruler, and no one at the moment is as strong as Putin. He may be no saint but he is tough enough to fight the many devils that plague his country.
How will his return to Russia’s top foreign policy post impact on the rest of the world? A more assertive Russia is bound to undermine the American hegemony, which has in any case been in decline in recent years. It may represent the beginning of a return to multi-power politics. It is hard to say if that is necessarily a bad thing.
What about the economy? Putin’s early years in office show an understanding of the need for pro-market reforms, and the political will and the energy necessary to carry them through. If he can rediscover those qualities in himself, that might be the best thing about his re-election.
Will he tackle corruption? Sometimes. There is no doubt that Putin dealt ruthlessly with some of the corrupt practices that built up during the Yeltsin years. At the same time he can be very protective of some personal friends and associates who do not deserve that protection. The kindest thing that can be said about his attitude towards the rule of law is that it is flexible.
What about human rights? The good news is that Putin is powerful enough to advance individual liberties without weakening his political position. The bad news is that his record indicates he is unlikely to do so. Some cases still leave a very bad taste in the mouth – not least because the government’s over-reaction seems so unnecessary. He appears to be a man who holds grudges.
What will change as a result of this election? Not much.
What does all this mean for business? Who knows? However, the recent history of Russia does call to mind a Biblical text: “To him who hath shall more be given; to him who hath not even what he hath shall be taken away.”