- - Sunday, October 2, 2011

MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s decision to seek the presidency in 2012 raises the specter of increased tensions between Russia and the West and the possibility of the former KGB officer remaining in power until 2024.

Putin’s style is very different from [current President Dmitry] Medvedev’s — it’s more confrontational, more combative and aggressive,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia specialist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

His style was on full display last month, when Mr. Putin accepted his party’s nomination for president in 2012.

“There is nothing that can stop us,” he told thousands of cheering United Russia party members at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium for a party congress Sept. 24.

Mr. Putin’s first stint as president, from 2000 to 2008, saw Russia at its most assertive since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with its navy and air force restarting long-range patrols.

In a 2007 speech in Munich, Mr. Putin accused the U.S. of trying to establish a “unipolar” world.

“The United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres — economic, political and humanitarian, and has imposed itself on other states,” he said in a speech that recalled Cold War tensions.

The White House has said it will work with whoever is in power in Russia, but Mr. Putin’s return is likely to put the recent Washington-Moscow “reset” under strain and exacerbate differences over U.S. plans for a European missile-defense shield.

If Western leaders are wary about having to deal with Mr. Putin again, there is little doubt that many Russians will welcome his return, as a video circulated on YouTube last week aptly demonstrated.

The first half of the video shows about a dozen Russians complaining about low salaries, corruption, low living standards and other social ills. They are asked, “Will you vote for Putin?” They answer, “Yes,” justifying their intentions by saying “He’s a man you can trust” and “He cares about the people.”

“The Russian people tend to rely more on emotion than logic, and they believe in the greatness of the czar,” said Anastasia Markitan, a journalist at state news agency RIA Novosti.

“In fact, most people are entirely ignorant of the ins and outs of the political process and tend to rely on stereotypes, such as ‘Putin is a man of action.’”

Mr. Putin has built his strongman image on the widespread perception that he was responsible for saving Russia from the chaos and anarchy of the Boris Yeltsin-era.

But critics say he has stamped down hard on dissent and taken no serious measures to tackle rampant high-level corruption.

“Of course, Putin brought order,” Muscovite businessman Pavel Letov said. “But that’s about all he did. It’s strange that the people are still under some kind of illusion. There’s pretty much nothing left that his officials haven’t stolen.”

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