Although Russian leader Vladimir Putin likely will retain control after the March presidential election, he has recognized that the Russian political landscape has shifted since the beginning of his more than decadelong rule. Putin has acknowledged that the time when he was needed to consolidate or "save" the country from instability and insecurity has passed. However, he also understands that Russia is under constant threat because of its fractious nature and incessant pressure from abroad.
Therefore, Putin will seek to strike a balance between accepting a less consolidated state -- allowing the Communists and the protest movements to have some sort of say -- and keeping the Kremlin united under himself and populated with strong minds capable of weathering the challenges ahead. It will not be an easy task, and transitions such as this never go smoothly, so Russia's political landscape will remain volatile in the near term.
The real issue is not whether Putin can handle the struggles, but how long it takes him to sort through them and how much damage his image will sustain in the meantime. This is important because Putin is dealing with numerous issues other than domestic politics. When political instability struck Russia in the past, Putin tackled each problem in order; this time, several problems are occurring all at once, and in the lead up to a presidential election. Putin needs a strong, united and focused team to tackle the numerous challenges facing Russia, but the anti-Kremlin movements are preventing the formation of a united group that can create effective solutions for the country. In the coming months, as Russia's political volatility continues and Putin examines his strategy, the perception that he is becoming less powerful will continue both inside and outside Russia. The perception of Putin as weak is important, as it could complicate some issues Moscow is dealing with this year and in years to come.
First, Russia is reassessing its economic situation. The country's economy has recovered since the 2008 financial crisis, and Moscow had started implementing some expansive plans for the future. The modernization and privatization programs -- which the Russian people viewed favorably -- were to bring in possibly hundreds of billions of dollars in investment and advanced technology over the next few years and modernize the Russian economy. But these plans depended on European investment, and Europe's various financial and economic crises have forced many to backtrack on their commitments to Russia's programs. Furthermore, the perception that Putin is weakening and that Russia is politically unstable has discouraged many investors.