Only Putin Can Save Russia, Really

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Russia’s budget deficit is growing. The government’s program to support retirees is running short of cash. Taxes on the Russian people will have to rise.  

But the future is far from bleak for Russia. Why? Vladimir Putin is about to become president - again.

The opinion pages of American newspapers have been filled with fears that Putin will return Russia to a Communist-era dictatorship and to closed financial markets. That is not only untrue – Putin has no choice but to continue Russia’s modernization – but it also misses the larger point.

Russia, like the U.S. and so many other developed nations around the world, has serious issues that need to be addressed. Its workforce is shrinking, its budget deficit is growing and global financial troubles threaten to disrupt its economic footing.

That’s exactly why Putin should be welcomed back. Now, more than ever, Russians need – and are demanding – a confident leader with guts. They want a decisive, bold president who will make the tough decisions and implement substantial reform. They also want someone who knows the ropes, who’s been there. Putin is that guy.

His return gives Russians like me confidence that the problems we are facing will be fixed.

The presidential election in Russia is five months away, but Putin isn’t wasting time. He’s already laid out ambitious goals. He has vowed to zero out Russia’s budget deficit, diversify its energy markets around the world, expand trade opportunities in many directions and secure Russia a seat in the World Trade Organization.

Russia has a huge opportunity – especially during today’s widespread economic and political unrest – to be a pillar of stability. Putin, as the new president, can build it.

He’s about to reemerge on the international stage, which for him is a familiar place. He knows world leaders and they know him. He can keep the attention of the most powerful among them and explain Russia’s position. He will be listened to because, bar none, he is the most popular politician in the country.

Putin has promised that the government would trim its budget deficit in 2014 to 0.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. At the same time, he has promised to keep government spending at between 20 percent and 21 percent of GDP from 2012 to 2014. He’s also predicted 57 percent revenue growth from the oil and gas industry.

To make this happen, Putin said Russia will have to embrace strict fiscal discipline. There’s only one man who has the trust of the people and the powers-that-be in Russia to crack the whip. And that’s Putin.

Would-be presidents commonly make big promises; most of the time they fail to deliver. President Obama, for example, won the White House because he vowed to change the direction of the U.S. and to make it a better place. So far, he’s fallen short.

But Putin isn’t Obama. Not only is he tested (he served as president from 1999-2008), but he led Russia through its most consequential period of modernization. Maybe even more importantly, the Russian people – 68 percent of whom approve of Putin - have confidence in him and trust that he – more than anyone else, can put Russia on the right path.

Putin announced in September he would seek to return to the presidency. Even his soon-to-be predecessor and protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, acknowledged that Putin is the right man for the job, calling him "the most authoritative politician at the moment in our country."

Russians want a leader who takes responsibility. They want a leader who isn’t afraid to make the difficult choices.

Outsiders misread and misunderstand Putin, but the people who know him, the people he has led before, know him well. They, like me, understand he is exactly the type of leader Russia needs right now.

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