Putin’s Plans Lack Plausibility: The future president writes alot but says very little

Arrow sign on a street. Image by pat00139/Flickr.

President-to-be Vladimir Putin has outlined his plans for Russia in a series of newspaper articles. The real question, however, is not what should be done but how the goals can be achieved. This question remains unanswered even after reading through Putin’s articles.

Nowadays it is common to think that Russia is already living according to new rules – although no one is able to clearly articulate what those rules are. The change is visible, however. Take, for example, the ‘Putin Plan’ – a collection of texts that served as the unofficial electoral programme in the previous presidential elections. Few people actually read anything written in that plan, yet everyone remembers the billboards that dominated the political landscape from the smallest village to the biggest cities four years ago.

This time around, Putin’s plans have been presented to the electorate in the form of newspaper articles published in the leading Russian newspapers from January through February 2012. Although Putin is expected to win the March elections, what is at stake in the campaign is the legitimacy of his third presidential term. The article writing is, of course, entirely different from holding free and fair elections, but by engaging with the public outside of the usual realm of state television, the current Prime Minister is signalling that he has got his act together; and what is more, that he has answers to the pressing questions on the future of Russia.


The Deal and the Rocket: Understanding North Korea’s “Inconsistency”

North Korean soldier on tank saluting, courtesy of NOS Nieuws/Flickr

It is becoming all too common for North Korea to engage in provocative behavior in order to grab international attention. This time around though, the announcement by North Korea on March 16, 2012, to conduct a satellite launch seemed to catch the Obama administration particularly off guard. For the United States, this latest provocation went completely against the spirit of the Leap Day Deal agreed to only two weeks before in which North Korea would freeze its uranium enrichment activities and place a moratorium on further missile and nuclear tests in exchange for U.S. humanitarian assistance.

While this satellite launch could be expected for a country committed to military-first politics and in the context of the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the pursuit of the Leap Day Deal comes across as a redundant effort. Following the satellite launch, reports are now emerging that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test which will have further implications. Given that the satellite launch and a nuclear test would scupper any agreement with the United States, why did North Korea bother to show up and negotiate the deal?


Putin’s Next Term

Photograph from the World Press Photo 2008 World Tour in Moscow. Image by firdaus omar/Flickr.

There are those, not least in the West, who hope or even suppose that Vladimir Putin’s reincarnation on 7 May as President of Russia will mean a fresh start.

On the face of it, he is well placed to make one. The new Duma is structured for subservience, the Russian economy is doing pretty well, and the protest movement has lost the momentum it enjoyed from December 2011 to March this year. Putin’s personal dominance over the small group of his associates that rule the country has been reinforced.

That also means of course that his answerability for the future course of events has increased too. It would be unusual for any man embarking on what in effect is his fourth term of office to change his underlying ideas. Dimitry Medvedev, who used a different vocabulary, has been set aside as a tame Prime Minister in waiting. It is probable that the next administration President Putin sponsors will for the most part be a reshuffle of well-used cards. Putin’s campaign offering was stability, not change.

Connecting South Asia: The Stilwell Road & Sub-Regional Networks

Entering Burma through the Pangsau Pass on Stilwell Road at Border Post 173. (Photo: kazkapades/Flickr)

The ‘reopening’ of the Stilwell Road, as it were, has come to occupy news space with renewed vigour in the past few of years. The road finds its inception at Ledo Road in Assam, through Nampong and Pangsau Pass in Arunachal Pradesh (the latter is the international border point) through Bhamo and Myitkina in Kachin State of Myanmar, to Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province. The largest section of this currently dysfunctional route lies in Myanmar (1,033 km), a 61 km stretch traverses India and the remaining 632 km passes through China. It must be noted that this road was operational only during the period of World War II, during which time it was used as a military supply line. It lay redundant after this, as it does to this day.

Japan’s Response to New US Defense Strategy: “Welcome, but…”

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta addresses U.S. and Japanese troops stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Oct. 24, 2011. (Photo: secdef/Flickr)

The Japanese government welcomes the recently released US defense strategy because it rebalances the strategic focus toward the Asia-Pacific region. But the other focus of this new strategy — the so-called anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) capabilities of China which, the United States fears, could jeopardize its forward presence and freedom of action in the Western Pacific — does not get as much attention from Japan.

The new defense strategic guidance, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” has quickly gained currency in policy discussions in Japan after it was rolled out Jan. 5. Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki has said in the Diet that Tokyo welcomed it. He explained, for example, Jan. 31: “I understand that it indicates the United States attaches more importance to the Asia-Pacific region and enhances its regional presence. I believe it will be a significant contribution to the peace and security in this region.”