What is the Big Idea?
Vladimir Putin is officially back for his third term as president of Russia, but this time he faces a different political climate than he did in his first two stints, writes former Belgium prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, for The New York Times.
"Even he cannot prevent the arrival of a Russian Spring if reform is permanently stifled," said Verhofstadt. "The West must also be ready and willing to play its part in pressing for change."
So how does this Russia differ from the one he handed over to Dmitri Medvedev in 2008?
What is the Significance?
Russia is long overdue for change and it is as much in the interest of the West as of Russia itself, says Verhofstadt. But the West can only do so much.
"Russia needs a complete reboot of the system," he writes. "But the changes need to come from within, and they will only be credible if they are legitimate in the eyes of the Russian people."
Russia needs access to and respect from the outside world. The European Union and the United States needs a united front to leverage their power and push the country towards reform, fair elections and real political competition.
So what can they do to push Russia in the right direction?
"Russia is a proud country with a proud people," says Verhofstadt. "The international community should speak out plainly and act firmly. But ultimately change must and will come from within."
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