The result came as no surprise: Vladimir Putin won yesterday's Russian presidential election and will serve a fourth term. More importantly for the Kremlin leader, he obtained the comfortable result he was seeking, with 76.6% of the vote, up from 63.3% in the last election six years ago.
Yes, nearly two decades after emerging from obscurity to take over for Boris Yeltsin, the 65-year-old former KGB operative is set to lead Russia until 2024. At least. Though the Russian Constitution currently bars him from serving more than two consecutive terms, there's little reason to believe that he wouldn't either first return to the post of prime minister, as he had after his first two terms, or amend the Constitution.
After the results were reported Sunday, Putin laughed off at a reporter's question on whether he would run again in the following election, in 2030. "What, do you think I will sit until I'm 100 years old?" he replied, before adding that he was "not planning any constitutional reforms for now."
A generation after the fall of Communism, the very nature of the Russian state is a nagging question. Julian Hans writes in German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, "why should the Russian president be denied what China's People's Congress has just granted Xi Jinping — to rule for life?"
This prospect comes as Moscow's current relationship with Western countries grows tenser by the passing day, most recently in the face of diplomatic crisis between Britain and Russia over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in the English city of Salisbury.
Judging by how Andrei Kondrashov, Putin's campaign spokesman, reacted after Sunday's result, the ongoing spat of accusations actually benefited the Russian President. "We must say thanks to Great Britain," the Financial Times quotes Kondrashov as saying at a victory party. "Whenever Russia is accused of something indiscriminately and without any evidence, the Russian people unite around the center of power. And the center of power is certainly Putin today."
The reason is simple, write Anton Troianovski and Matthew Bodner in The Washington Post: "Escalation abroad helps Putin consolidate power at home." And with the "competing interests of a ruling elite angling for influence in a post-Putin era that will someday arrive," the two reporters warn that more tensions will come. "Putin will have an interest in intensifying the conflict with the West," they write.
So what should the West do? For Süddeutsche Zeitung"s Hans, "there is little else the West can do but to protect itself," he writes, noting that the West is already affected by propaganda, what looks like a new arms race, and the apparent brazen poisoning on Western soil. "The military and intelligence services must be ready for defense," he concludes.
Yet others, like University professor Laurence Daziano in French daily Le Figaro, suggest a radically different way to approach Mother Russia and its enigmatic leader. "After almost ten years of a distrust that has reached new heights with a new arms race, a dormant cyberwar and deadly upheavals in the Middle East and in Ukraine, it's now time to think of a way out of this crisis," she writes. Why not pursue a "peace diplomacy" centered on a series of compromises and agreements (on Ukraine, Syria, denuclearization, trade and energy) both sides could have an interest in following, Daziano suggests.
Forward or backward? War or peace? Hot or cold? The future of Russian relations with the West, especially in light of Putin's latest victory, is a wide-open question.