Who is Mr. Putin? West Still Can't Figure Out Russian President

© AFP 2023 / DMITRY KOSTYUKOVRussian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin adjusts his sunglasses as he watches an air show during MAKS-2011, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 17, 2011
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin adjusts his sunglasses as he watches an air show during MAKS-2011, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 17, 2011 - Sputnik International
President Vladimir Putin has largely remained an enigma for the West in the nearly two decades he has spent at the highest echelons of power, political analysts told Sputnik, offering their take on what drives the Russian statesman, his key achievements and next policy priorities.

Konstantin Kostin, director of the Civil Society Development Foundation, drew parallels between Putin and visionary statesmen of the 20th century. He compared Putin with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, West Germany's first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and General Charles de Gaulle, who established the Fifth Republic, pointing to their innovative approaches to dealing with major challenges and approval ratings.

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FDR came to power during a devastating economic crisis, proclaiming the New Deal, a set of policy measures which helped to overcome the Great Depression, the analyst said. Adenauer and de Gaulle were elected to lead countries destroyed during World War II.

"These politicians enjoyed high level of public support and trust. This is something that these leaders have in common," the analyst added.

Kostin further said that many in the West tend to think of Putin in terms of unpredictability.

"Everyone understands that Putin is a decisive politician. Thousands of articles on the Russian president have been published. I have read more than 20 books, with Western writers trying to explain Putin's motives. I think that the answer comes down to values. It is quite strange to see foreign leaders complain that the Russian president is unpredictable. Politics is like chess. The player whose moves cannot be figured out until the end of the game and who can better understand the tactic of his opponents has the advantage," the analyst explained.

Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign Affairs and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov told Sputnik that those in the West who do not understand what is happening view Putin as "an extremely cunning strategic thinker," but this is purely "the psychology of fear" of Western elites.

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"Nothing has gone the way they have expected. So they have come up with an explanation," he noted, adding that Putin's image has not been immune to "a certain deal of mythologization" at home. At the same time, Putin "remains the linchpin of our political system. You may like it or not, but this is a fact. This is why he is perceived as an absolutely irreplaceable leader at the moment and rightfully so," Lukyanov said.

Nikolai Mironov, who heads the Center for Economic and Political Reform, observed that Putin has not changed much in the years since he gained national prominence. 

"Clearly he was younger then. Age has a certain bearing, adding more prominence," the analyst said. "But key rhetorical patterns and political instruments have not changed much. Putin has always positioned himself as a national leader who has united the country and is capable of instilling order."

Mironov pointed out that Putin's image was formed during his first years in office, the time when every effort was made to overcome the chaos of the 1990s. The analyst named Crimea's reunification with Russia as Putin's other major achievement.

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Foreign policy has become a focus of Putin's current term in office, helping to forge a reputation of a leader who has improved the country's international standing.

"This is when the image of restoring a great country has appeared. This is the second challenge we had to deal with, the legacy of the 1990s and this one. These rhetoric and image have been rather successful," Mironov said.

At the same time, the analysts suggested that Putin is likely to shift his attention away from foreign policy to resolving domestic challenges during the remaining months of his presidency. This trend would only be reinforced if he runs and wins the next presidential election scheduled to be held in March 2018 since the image of an efficient leader could be adversely affected if no major domestic reforms are carried out, they added.

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"The standard of living has fallen significantly. Corruption and communication between the government and society have returned to the agenda. The issue of a privileged elite, the oligarchs, which Putin tackled during his first term in office, has also resurfaced," Mironov said. "Something needs to be done at home, not in the international arena where everything is ok."

For his part, Lukyanov mentioned that foreign policy achievements are unlikely to improve domestic situation if the country's leadership does not focus on resolving challenges at home.

Putin has been at the helm for two decades, serving as both president and prime minister. He was reelected as Russia's president in 2012, with his current term running out in 2018. Putin has not unveiled whether he would take part in the next presidential election.If he does, he is likely to win up to 75 percent of the vote.

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