As Putin begins another 6-year term, he is entering a new era of extraordinary power in Russia


Just a few months short of a quarter-century as Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin on Tuesday will put his hand on a copy of the constitution and begin another six-year term as president wielding extraordinary power.

Since becoming acting president on the last day of 1999, Putin has shaped Russia into a monolith — crushing political opposition, running independent-minded journalists out of the country and promoting an increasing devotion to prudish “traditional values” that pushes many in society into the margins.

His influence is so dominant that other officials could only stand submissively on the sidelines as he launched a war in Ukraine despite expectations the invasion would bring international opprobrium and harsh economic sanctions, as well as cost Russia dearly in the blood of its soldiers.

With that level of power, what Putin will do with his next term is a daunting question at home and abroad.

The war in Ukraine, where Russia is making incremental though consistent battlefield gains, is the top concern, and he is showing no indication of changing course.

“The war in Ukraine is central to his current political project, and I don’t see anything to suggest that that will change. And that affects everything else,” Brian Taylor, a Syracuse University professor and author of “The Code of Putinism,” said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“It affects who’s in what positions, it affects what resources are available and it affects the economy, affects the level of repression internally,” he said.

In his state of the nation address in February, Putin vowed to fulfill Moscow’s goals in Ukraine, and do whatever it takes to “defend our sovereignty and security of our citizens.” He claimed the Russian military has “gained a huge combat experience” and is “firmly holding the initiative and waging offensives in a number of sectors.”

That will come at huge expense, which could drain money available for the extensive domestic projects and reforms in education, welfare and poverty-fighting that Putin used much of the two-hour address to detail.

Taylor suggested such projects were included in the address as much for show as for indicating real intent to put them into action.

Putin “thinks of himself in the grand historical terms of Russian lands, bringing Ukraine back to where it belongs, those sorts of ideas. And I think those trump any kind of more socioeconomic-type programs,” Taylor said.

If the war were to end in less than total defeat for either side, with Russia retaining some of the territory it has already captured, European countries fear that Putin could be encouraged toward further military adventurism in the Baltics or in Poland.

“It’s possible that Putin does have vast ambitions and will try to follow a costly success in Ukraine with a new attack somewhere else,” Harvard international relations professor Stephen Walt wrote in the journal Foreign Policy. “But it is also entirely possible that his ambitions do not extend beyond what Russia has won — at enormous cost and that he has no need or desire to gamble for more.”

But, Walt added, “Russia will be in no shape to launch new wars of aggression when the war in Ukraine is finally over.”

Such a rational concern might not prevail, others say. Maksim Samorukov, of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said that “driven by Putin’s whims and delusions, Moscow is likely to commit self-defeating blunders.”

In a commentary in Foreign Affairs, Samorukov suggested that Putin’s age could affect his judgment.

“At 71 … his awareness of his own mortality surely impinges on his decision-making. A growing sense of his limited time undoubtedly contributed to his fateful decision to invade Ukraine.”

Overall, Putin may be heading into his new term with a weaker grip on power than he appears to have.

Russia’s “vulnerabilities are hidden in plain sight. Now more than ever, the Kremlin makes decisions in a personalized and arbitrary way that lacks even basic controls,” Samorukov wrote.

“The Russian political elite have grown more pliant in implementing Putin’s orders and more obsequious to his paranoid worldview,” he wrote. The regime “is at permanent risk of crumbling overnight, as its Soviet predecessor did three decades ago.”

Putin is sure to continue his continue animosity toward the West, which he said in his state of the nation address “would like to do to Russia the same thing they did in many other regions of the world, including Ukraine: to bring discord into our home, to weaken it from within.”

Putin’s resistance to the West manifests not only anger at its support for Ukraine, but in what he sees as the undermining of Russia’s moral fiber.

Russia last year banned the notional LGBTQ+ “movement” by declaring it to be extremist in what officials said was a fight for traditional values like those espoused by the Russian Orthodox Church in the face of Western influence. Courts also banned gender transitioning.

“I would expect the role of the Russian Orthodox Church to continue to be quite visible,” Taylor said. He also noted the burst of social media outrage that followed a party hosted by TV presenter Anastasia Ivleeva where guests were invited to show up “almost naked.”

“Other actors in the system understand that that stuff resonates with Putin. … There were people interested in exploiting things like that,” he said.

Although the opposition and independent media have almost vanished under Putin’s repressive measures, there’s still potential for further moves to control Russia’s information space, including moving forward with its efforts to establish a “sovereign internet.”

The inauguration comes two days before Victory Day, Russia’s most important secular holiday, commemorating the Soviet Red Army’s capture of Berlin in World War II and the immense hardships of the war, in which the USSR lost some 20 million people.

The defeat of Nazi Germany is integral to modern Russia’s identity and to Putin’s justification of the war in Ukraine as a comparable struggle.


Associated Press writer Jim Heintz, based in Tallinn, Estonia, has covered the entirety of Putin’s tenure as Russian leader.