Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Russia's prime minister and his entire Cabinet. The move, which came just two weeks before voters will go to the polls for the country's presidential election, surprised political analysts and sent Russia's stock market tumbling. The dismissals were especially startling because Putin is heavily favored in his reelection campaign and doesn't need to consolidate political power. As Robert Skidelsky, the director of Moscow's School of Political Studies, put it, "It introduces an unsettling element into politics… He didn’t need a demonstration of resolve and he didn't need to announce what his next four year program was because he wasn’t in any danger of losing the election. He wasn't under any pressure."
Under Putin's leadership such actions are no longer a surprise. During his tenure he has arrested Russia's richest man (oil tycoon Mikhail Khordorkovsky) on shaky legal grounds; harassed and threatened NGOs and aid groups like CARE and Action Against Hunger; taken over or shut down independent television stations; and stripped power from regional governors. Today's firings only confirm Putin's true colors. As Russia expert Michael McFaul writes, "There is no doubt about [Putin's] antidemocratic proclivities… [he] seeks to destroy Russia's already fragile and weak democratic institutions."
After months of basing their Russia policy on President Bush’s personal relationship with Putin (“I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush said of Putin in 2001), the Bush administration has recently shown signs of adopting a different approach. The Center for American Progress asked three experts to offer their views on what this new U.S.-Russia policy should look like. All three agreed that the United States should forcefully speak out against undemocratic developments, invest resources in programs like Nunn-Lugar to secure Russian nuclear weapons, and develop a true "Russian policy" to replace the current "Putin policy." In light of today’s developments, their ideas are as timely as ever.