World

Russian President Putin's next big task is to rebrand the country

His government will aim to solidify an alternative world view and a mission statement for the 21st century

Unsurprisingly, Mr Vladimir Putin has won Sunday's so-called "election" for his fourth term as president of Russia.

That puts him on course to further entrench his power, pursue an expansive foreign policy and continue his escalating showdown with the West.

But one of his most significant goals to enhance his stature may be one that has fallen under the radar: the development of a post-Soviet ideology for his country.

Back in 2014, first deputy head of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin stated: "If there is Putin - there is Russia, if there is no Putin - there is no Russia."

Mr Putin would want nothing more than the West and the Russian population to agree.

While Russia is broad and diverse, the country has become hostage to Mr Putin's persona and his emergent ideology. This presents a crisis of identity.

For a country that desires the status of a great power and civilisation rather than that of Mr Putin's personal fiefdom, Russia requires a mission statement - an ideology offering a distinct worldview.

He needs this not only as a distraction from Russia's stagnating economy, but also to provide a legacy that offers an alternative to the Western model of liberal democracy.

And while many of his recent actions may have appeared impulsive, his inner circle has increasingly provided the contours of a nascent national philosophy.

IDEOLOGY

Developing an ideology may seem an unlikely preoccupation for a popular autocratic regime that is not afraid to flex its military muscle and rattle its nuclear sabre.

However, defining its vision of itself is an important existential task for a country where modern statehood is still novel and which has only recently emerged from policy goals based on Soviet-era Marxism-Leninism.

Branding itself is even more crucial for a country that seeks to play a grand global role but is unwilling to accept Western norms of legitimacy for domestic governance and for international diplomacy.

What could serve as the basis of Russia's new ideology?

In the early years of his administration, Mr Putin promised the Russian public prosperity and stability.

But as Russia's economy failed to diversify and became ever more dependent on natural resource exports, as corruption became more entrenched, and most importantly as oil prices started falling in 2014, that message of prosperity sounds increasingly hollow.

Over the next six years, Mr Putin's government will make an effort to solidify and codify an alternative world view - a view Russia is eager to offer for domestic consumption as well as export.

For the Kremlin, this vision will represent legitimacy and a patriotic mission statement for the 21st century.

THE WEST

For the West, it is important to recognise and to call out the hollowness of this vision, rather than falling into the trap of accepting it as justification for this regime.

The West won the Cold War because it won the competition for ideas and ideals.

It will win again if it can overcome the challenges of the fraying relations between a politically divided United States and a fragmenting Europe to stay firm to a vision and mission that is more positive than whatever Mr Putin devises in his latest term of office. - REUTERS


The writer is an author and senior fellow at US think-tank Atlantic Council.

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