Moscow was the scene of two elaborate celebrations this week. On 7 May, Vladimir Putin took the oath of office in the Kremlin for his fourth term as President. He described Russia as a "land of great victories and achievements" and vowed "to do everything to build Russia's power, prosperity and fame". On May 9, Russia commemorates the victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War with a massive military parade showing the latest hypersonic missiles, tanks and drones. Putin warned in his speech to those who wanted to write history or claim extraordinacy, as the Nazis had done.
But now that the pageantry is over, what should we expect from Putin's fourth term? So far, the signs point to continuity in personnel and politics. Dimitri Medvedev will remain Prime Minister, an agreement that clearly fits with Putin. It may well be that government positions are being reshuffled and there are rumors, but only a few officials in the Putin system are dismissed. They simply turn to different positions. Rumors have suggested for some time that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is ready to retire, but he has been persuaded in the past to remain in his position.
There were also suggestions that Alexei Kudrin, who was Minister of Finance from 2000-11 and 2010 Euromoney was named Finance Minister of the Year (before he quarreled with Medvedev) return with a portfolio that the Promotion of economic relations with Europe and the United States. Kudrin is an economic liberal who insists that Russia must diversify its economy and introduce structural reforms, and insists that it must improve relations with the West if it wants to thrive. He blamed the government's short-term thinking for delaying economic progress. However, it is unclear how committed Putin is to economic reform because attempts in his previous term of office ran out.
Putin provided clues as to what the program would be for his fourth term in his Poslanie. – State of the nation speech on March 1st. The first half of the speech was a discussion on the state of the Russian economy, with promises to reduce poverty, raise living standards, create more jobs and increase growth rates. These are now enshrined in its Executive Decree of 7 May on national objectives and strategic objectives until 2024. They include the increase in life expectancy from the current 72 years to 78 years; Cutting poverty in half; accelerate the introduction of digital technologies and make Russia the fifth largest economy with growth rates above international rates. Putin also said that Russia will become a leader in artificial intelligence.
These goals are indeed ambitious and probably unattainable. The Russian economy has certainly weathered the economic crisis of 2014/15, when a combination of low oil prices, structural deficits and Western sanctions hit the economy hard. However, prudent fiscal policies and the positive effects of Russia's countermeasures on European agricultural imports, which stimulated the growth of Russia's own agricultural sector, have allowed the economy to grow again. With rising oil prices, growth should continue; but as long as Russia remains primarily a hydrocarbon and commodity exporter, its ability to modernize will remain limited.
The second half of Putin's speech in his fourth term could give some pointers to foreign policy. Putin has rolled out Russia's new generation of nuclear weapons to destroy that of the United States. A video animation showed a new, improved ICBM that launched from Russia, flew over the South Pole, escaped detection by US missile defense, reached South Florida, and deployed several warheads on a target suspiciously for Mar-A-Lago. Putin described four new super weapons that Russia developed, including a nuclear-armed cruise missile and an intercontinental underwater drone. He accused the West of not taking Russia seriously and ignoring its interests, assuring its audience that the United States could not defeat Russia in a military conflict. The advanced weapons shown on May 9 were undoubtedly designed to reinforce this message. With the new US National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review calling both Russia opponents and committing the United States to modernize its own nuclear arsenal, Putin has clearly signaled that Russia wants to continue building its own military capabilities.
In his fourth term, Putin will likely focus on Russia's relations with China as Moscow's most important global partner. Strengthening the partnership with Beijing to the Crimea was one of the biggest achievements of his third term. Russia will also seek to consolidate its position as the great great power in the Middle East, regarded by the Sunni and Shiite states – and Israel – as the only player able to speak with all sides and a non-ideological approach in the region tracked. It will remain busy with the end of the war in Syria as well as the search for partners for the reconstruction of post-war Syria. Putin will undoubtedly seek to strengthen Russia's position in the Middle East as the Trump government reduces the presence of the United States in the region.