Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't wasting any time capitalizing on his electoral victory. After being sworn-in as president on Monday, the Russian strongman moved to weaken his opposition and enrich his government, which begins a six-year term and is eligible for a fourth term.
One of Putin's first orders of business was to raise taxes as much as fourfold on thousands of natural gas wells, reports Bloomberg's Anna Shiryaevskaya. “The increased gas taxes and fiscal incentives for unconventional oilfields are all geared to one end -- to get the maximum out of the energy sector for the state coffers both in the short and long term,” Russian analyst Lilit Gevorgyan tells the news service. It's not clear what he'll spend the money on but one possibility is social spending, given his campaign promises. "He vowed to boost pensions and salaries for state workers and the military," writes Shiryaevskaya, "pledges that will contribute to a 4.8 trillion-ruble ($160 billion) increase in spending through 2018."
Such spending could assuage the groundswell of anger within Russia in the long-term, but to silence the swelling crowds of anti-regime protesters in the country, more direct tactics have been employed. Today, Russian police detained two protest leaders who were directing an overnight sit-in to protest Putin's return to the presidency. "Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, two of the most charismatic organizers of protests that have shaken Putin's authority, were among several hundred demonstrators who spent the night in a park near the Kremlin administration offices," reports Reuters' Maria Tsvetkov. According to The Telegraph's Tom Parfitt, tens of thousands showed up for the peaceful protests, which resulted in 80 injuries and 450 people being detained.
Interestingly, amid the arrests, Putin pledged to build a more democratic Russia, saying "We want to live in a democratic country, where every person has the freedom and space to apply their talent and labour." He added: "We're entering a new stage in our national development."
Consolidating his political power, Reuters' Gleb Bryanski reports that Putin's soon-to-be-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev is looking to purge dissenters from government posts. "Medvedev would like to squeeze political heavyweights like Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin out of the government and bring in his loyalists," Bryanski reports.
So how is Putin going to pay for his regime's increased social spending? According to Bloomberg, the plan is to boost investment in Russia's energy sector. “International deals appear to be the first order of business, offering more hope for international oil companies in offshore development,” energy analyst Julia Nanay of PFC Energy said. “Russia may need even more foreign oil investment now to generate revenues for the populist pledges of Putin’s campaign.” While Putin has always been the man in charge of Russia, it appears he really wants to make these next six years count. How he's standing with the public favors is the real question.