The veteran Vladimir Putin is back as president of Russia after a resounding victory at the March 4 election and it is no good news for the West.
Putin was post-cold war Russia's second President after Boris Yeltsin. From 2000 to 2008, he served two terms as president and handpicked his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to contest the 2008 presidential poll. Since the Russian constitution prohibits two successive terms for a president, Medvedev became the President and Putin entered the Duma and became the Prime Minister. It was in fact a swapping of roles. The deal was for one term.
Putin wielded more power than the president during the one-term presidency of Medvedev. During the last months of Medvedev's four-year term, reports emerged that he might contest Putin for the presidency and the two were portrayed in the media as rivals. But in the end, Medvedev honoured the deal and let Putin contest the presidency again and win with a massive margin, much to the chagrin of the West.
Now that the 60-year-old strongman is back in office, he is set to serve another two terms and the Putin policies that began in 2000 will continue but with more vigour because Russia is today more powerful than it was during Putin's first two terms.
An ex-KGB spymaster, Putin, during his first two terms, oversaw not only Russia's economic recovery but also brutally suppressed the rebellion in Chechnya, a Muslim majority region which is vital for Russia's oil and gas exports to Europe.
As soon as economic and political stability was achieved, Putin made his ambitions known. He wanted to make Russia a superpower again - on equal footing with the United States.
In addition to having a stockpile of more than 4,600 active nuclear warheads, Russia is also the world's largest conventional power. Under Putin, Russia made significant breakthroughs in weapons development. Today it has state-of-the art fighter jets that even surprise US military experts. Its fifth generation T-50 fighter jets with the futuristic characteristics of stealth, sustained supersonic cruise, and integrated weapons have effectively eliminated the United States' edge in the sky.
In comparison to the United States' US$ 700 billion annual defence budget, Russia spends around US$ 63 billion on defence while China's defence budget has soared to US$ 106 billion following an 11.6 percent increase this week. That Russia has achieved what the US has achieved in weapons technology with a defence budget that is one tenth of the US is indeed an achievement. Such advanced military technology vouch for Putin's determination not to make the same mistake the Soviet Union had made. The communist giant during the cold war era spent blindly on defence to keep up with the US -- a move that paved the way for its economic decline and its disintegration in 1991. Putin wants to make Russia not only militarily strong but economically too.
With Putin set to rule Russia for two more terms, the low-intensity cold war between Russia and the West is likely to intensify. The West has already earned Putin's wrath by inferring that the March 4 presidential poll was not free and fair. Some called it a fraud, while others delayed their congratulatory messages. Putin has blamed the West for instigating Russian opposition supporters to take to the streets after his party's parliamentary election victory in December last year and again after his triumph at the March 4 presidential election. He has accused the West of trying to create a Russian spring in line with the Arab Spring that has led to regime changes in the Arab world.
The return of Putin as president will put a spoke in the West's plans vis-à-vis Syria and Iran. Any move by the West against Syria or Iran at the United Nations Security Council is likely to be quashed by a Russian veto.
With the March 4 victory, the Putin doctrine will be enforced forcefully. The doctrine warns outside powers to keep away from Russia's backyards. In other words, Russia will consider NATO membership for states bordering Russia a hostile act.
It was no coincidence that Putin wrote a series of articles to Russia's Moskovskie Novosti newspaper a week before the election and capped it with an article on foreign policy.
The article offers solace to Syria, Iran and other countries crumbling under undue western pressure.
Warning that Western intervention in other countries was undermining global security, he wrote that "Russia will strive to create a new world order based on modern geopolitical realities smoothly and without unnecessary disturbances."
Western military intervention in third party states on human rights grounds creates a "moral and legal vacuum" in international relations, he said and added that Russia would not permit a "Libyan scenario" to happen in Syria.
There was good news also for Iran. Putin wrote that the growing threat of a military strike on Iran alarmed Russia. "If it happens, the consequences will be truly catastrophic and their real scope impossible to imagine," he said. In a message that spells defiance, Putin said Moscow recognised Iran's right to develop a civilian nuclear programme and enrich uranium, subject to IAEA supervision.
In the 6,000-word article, he slammed the US for not heeding Russia's security concerns when it decided to set up a missile defence system in Eastern Europe.
"I would not mention this topic if these games were not taking place right on Russian borders, if they had not undermined our security, if they did not work against stability in the world."
Signalling that Russia's China relations will lead to new alignment of the global power centres, Russia's president-elect said, "China's voice sounds more self-confident in the global affairs and we welcome it, because Beijing shares our vision of the new world order."
Beijing's rising economic power and Russia's superior military power certainly make a formidable combination to pose a tough challenge to the US and NATO. China this week announced an 11.6 percent rise in defence expenditure, in response to US reinforcements in the South China Sea region.
Both China and Russia, in the coming years, will fortify military ties not only at bilateral level but also through multilateral processes such as the Shanghai Corporation Organistation. They will also focus more attention on BRICS - the economic forum comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - as a means to strengthen their economies and circumvent adverse effects of imminent or possible European economic crises.
It seems the time has come to replace the US-led unipolar world order with a multipolar world order dominated by the US, Russia and China.