Last Saturday 24 September, President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia announced that he will be stepping down from office next year to allow his Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a third presidential term. Russia watchers see in this Putin’s desire to prevent substantial reform, and, for that reason, predict the end of the Putin era as well. On the short-term, the Putin-Medvedev shuffle will also affect ecumenical relations, at least, this would not come as a surprise.
Russia will enter a period of political and economic stagnation, analysts assume. Premier-President Medvedev (46) and President-Premier Vladimir Putin (59) – “Robin and Batman”, US diplomats like to say - have dominated Russian politics since 1999, and if Putin wants to, he could remain in power until at least 2024. His motives might be a desire to avoid prosecution or to protect the interests of business friends and allies. Meanwhile, the absence of any reform policy is further crippling Russia’s potential. With economic growth collapsing, crisis is glooming; the economy still largely depends on the sale of oil and gas; and corruption allegedly grew with a staggering 600 percent under Putin’s rule.
Russian nationalism being a trademark of the Putin reign, Putin’s return to the presidency will undoubtedly harm relations with the West. More pressure will be put on the former countries of the Soviet Union, like Ukraine and Belarus, to work in Russia’s interests.
Under these circumstances, the Russian Orthodox Church is likely to remain an instrument of government policy. It will highlight, even more emphatically, the rights of traditional religions (Roman Catholicism is not among them), their Russianness and contribution to the Russian nation. The same goes for the rights and plights of Russians, Russian Orthodox believers and Russian Orthodoxy abroad. Therefore, it seems probable that the already strained relationship with the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches and Protestantism will further deteriorate.