Successor 2008 – who will be worse than Putin?

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“They need a classic enemy whom they will heroically fight before the eyes of the nation and the rest of the world” – this, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta says, is Dmitry Rogozin’s reaction to the split of his own faction in the Duma. “They” are the Presidential Administration and its puppet United Russia. Oleg Kovalev’s attempt to label the twin factions (it was supposed that Rogozin’s faction would be called Motherland – Russian Regions, and Baburin’s branch – Motherland – People’s Will) was criticized by Boris Gryzlov. The speaker and the leader of United Russia stated that “the decision has not been made yet” and “this should be discussed in detail.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta assumed that Gryzlov did not like Kovalev’s self-confident phrases about the decision made by his committee. “The United Russia leader disapproves of such zeal.” This is why it’s possible that Gryzlov’s dissatisfaction was purely bureaucratic. Dmitry Rogozin is sure that this knotty story involving Baburin’s supporters who became active after their patron was expelled form the faction is the result of “the Kremlin’s policy aimed at discrediting the party and splitting the faction.”

Dmitry Rogozin told Gazeta that making cunning use of Baburin’s ambitions, his narcissism, his reluctance to part with privileges and his high position, the presidential administration is out to strike a blow at the Motherland party, its major political opponent.

However, Rogozin noted that “this entire farce has enabled us to revise our relations with Sergei Glaziev, to understand that our former conflict was not worth it.” Gazeta reports that Rogozin’s Motherland agreed with the idea of creating the institution of co-leaders of the party, which was proposed by Glazyev (this was the main cause of his conflict with Rogozin). Rogozin, Grazyev and Valentin Varennikov were chosen to play the role of such leaders. They intend to head the party on the principle of rotation.

As far as the next phases of the “discrediting campaign” are concerned, Dmitry Rogozin said that he expects anything, including physical threats.

Gazeta’s experts agree with Rogozin’s evaluations. Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator group, noted that “it would be an advantage for the Kremlin to split Rogozin’s Motherland into several parts controlled by Baburin and Glazyev so that these remains will not be able to become elected to the next Duma.”

As far as the next parliamentary campaign is concerned, Vedomosti says that only two parties – United Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – have a realistic chance of winning. Nadezhdin doesn’t even think that the Communist Party (CPRF) will get past the 7% threshold in 2007.

The LDPR supports this opinion willingly. “Russia is heading straight for a two-party system,” said Alexei Mitrofanov of the LDPR. “There will be only two parties in Russia after 2007 – United Russia and the LDPR.”

Boris Nadezhdin continued. “Banning blocs, the Kremlin safeguarded itself against the emergence of democratic coalitions.”

However, it seems that democrats insured themselves against their merger. Vremya Novostei Independent lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov’s appeal to use a neutral political site in the form of his Russian Republican Party for overcoming old differences did not stir his political opponents Grigory Yavlinsky and Anatoly Chubais. They did not even attend the conference held by Republican Party in Moscow.

However, Nikita Belykh, head of the political council of Union of Right force, and Yabloko deputy secretary Sergei Mitrokhin who attended the conference, agreed with Ryzhkov that 13 amendments, which strangle the opposition, are “outrageous” and that “democracy is in danger.” At the same time, Republican (and former member of Yabloko) Alexei Zakharov noted that “the main threat originates from the Democrats and their split.”

Zakharov noted that the Democrats get on with each other regarding the conceptual issues but personal ambitions dominate in elections.

Alexei Zakharov said: “We see clever and talented people quarreling. One of them says: You are a thief. Another replies: You are a useless windbag. Voters understand that both of them are right, because they are clever and talented.”

It’s evident that the Democrats cannot rely on voters’ support in such circumstances.

Vremya Novostei reports that Nikita Belykh stated that all previous attempts to unite failed: “We welcomed the Free Choice 2008 Committee; we welcomed Irina Khakamada when she established her party. Now we welcome the Russian Republican Party.” However, there are no results despite the fact that there are more sites for negotiations than negotiators.

However, Belykh has his own plan. He promised that representatives of URF will visit all regions and propose democratic forces to sign protocols to unite until November. These protocols will be submitted to the federal level after which the democratic leaders will have to revise their positions.

In the meantime, Vedomosti reports that Yabloko criticized the Republicans.

Sergei Mitrokhin said that talks about the merger are not serious because the right-wing parties are “carriers of the oligarchic ideology, and their program is oriented to the rights of large owners and makes no mention about criminal privatization.” Grigory Yavlinsky stated a day after the meeting held by Republican Party that the right wing will always side with government. In addition, the Yabloko leader noted that “they do not have many voters. Not all oligarchs’ wives will vote for them.” Argumenty I Fakty replied that “if oligarchs take their lovers Union of Right Forces will defeat Yabloko.”

Alexei Makarkin of the Center of political technologies noted in an interview with Vedomosti that democrats will not unite until the end of the year.

Glleb Pavlovsky (the Effective Policy Foundation) noted that the democratic forces are interested in “intra-species competition,” and unite only in order to devour their counterparts.

Kommersant reports that leader of United Civic Front Kasparov stresses the need for a coalition “regardless of political views, a coalition in the face of a common threat.”

Kasparov says that the United Civic Front is negotiating unification with all parties save for extremists.

“The problem as I see it is that the emphasis is being placed on elections,” Kasparov said. “I’d say this is a mistake. The regime doesn’t attach any importance to elections anymore. What we need therefore is a broad coalition of all forces, not just right-wing parties.”

Kasparov doesn’t expect anything from the process of establishment of a single democratic party because “it is quite impossible.”

“Separate agreements with the Kremlin are easier,” Kasparov said in Kommersant. He maintains that only the parties authorized by the Kremlin will be able to participate in elections. Experts do not venture to predict who will get this right.

Andrei Piontkovsky, head of the Center of Strategic Research, noted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “the Kremlin’s behavior is irrational. This is the result of a deep shock, which the Kremlin experienced during the election in Ukraine. Before government thought that money, television and the administrative resource could solve all problems. But it turned out that this is not true. The Kremlin exaggerates the danger of the orange revolution – it cannot happen in Russia because civil society is very weak here. I think that the crisis of power is a more dangerous thing. I mean the rivalry between different groups in the Kremlin and the problem of Putin’s successor. It’s obvious that Putin’s environment wants him to violate the Constitution and run for the third term in office. I think that Putin does not want to do this. To all appearances, the result of this crisis will determine Russia’s political future.”

Boris Kagarlitsky, leader of Left Front, said in Versiya that it is the liberal elite itself that thinks it is the Kremlin’s worst headache. “The regime in Russia is not undemocratic because Putin has retained the habits and conduct of a KGB colonel. On the contrary, the Kremlin found itself in need of a KGB colonel because it was impossible to use democratic methods to impose a policy agenda conflicting with the interests of 80% of the people.”

The results of the opinion poll done by Yury Levada’s center confirm Kagarlitsky’s statement. On April 20, the Central Election Commission denied permission for a nationwide referendum. The initiative group wanted 17 questions asked, but the authorities found 15 of them unconstitutional, since they entailed an additional burden on the federal budget. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Central Election Commission, and the opposition promised to complain to the Board of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Yuri Levada Center polling agency has sought to determine what ordinary citizens think of the questions proposed for the referendum.

Seventy percent of respondents supported the idea of beneficiaries being offered a choice between in-kind social benefits and money payments, while 10% were opposed to this. Seventy-four percent of respondents supported retaining all the grounds for deferment from conscription that were valid on January 1, 2005. Fifty-eight percent of respondents approved the idea of a higher tax rate for incomes over ten times greater than the subsistence minimum. Almost 90% of respondents supported the idea of legislation holding the president, the government, and regional leaders accountable for deteriorating living standards. Over 80% supported direct popular elections of regional leaders. Novye Izvestia states that more than 90% of respondents said that the minimum wage should be set at the level of the subsistence minimum. And 97% of respondents were in favor of free education.

Vedomosti noted that it’s hardly likely that the results of Levada-Center’s poll will surprise anyone. The people’s negative attitude to monetization or private property on land is well-known.

Vedomosti writes that citizens understand that government damages their interests. However, they are not prepared to defend their opinion in pickets and at meetings. At the same time, officials of the Central Election Commission understand this too, and do not allow the referendum because they are assured that citizens will not struggle for it.

Vedomosti concluded: “This can even be called a social contract with Russia’s specific features.”

Versiya states that such reports give hopes to such organizations as Left Front, which was organized by Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Globalization Studies Institute; not by some extremist outsider.

Kagarlitsky states: “The government’s policy course provokes unrest in the lowest strata of society and in the middle class. The reason is simple. A substantial part of the middle class can only retain its present position as long as the remnants of social guarantees are preserved. Kagarlitsky said that the middle class is shrinking. Such reforms are like a special law against the middle class. The middle class understands all too well that it will be affected too, unless real reforms are initiated.

The leader of Left Front stated: “Do you know of a single episode when the regime in Russia was replaced in a constitutional manner? Save for the occasions when nothing really changes, that is…

Kagarlitsky has his own program: “If we really want bona fide democratic changes, we will have to use strikes, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. The protests of January 2005 could set an example. Trade unions and left-wing organizations had campaigned against monetization for over a year – but the authorities never cared. As soon as the people rose in protest, however, and blocked roads, the government woke up and immediately found the money it had claimed it lacked. Practical experience teaches us that the voice of the streets is always louder than speeches in parliament.”

Kagarlitsky is not sure at all that Russia will have presidents much longer. “In fact, even the actual title doesn’t matter… I mean, whether it’s the president, the tsar, the boss, the master of the Kremlin. The worst problem for Putin and his circle has nothing to do with successors. No matter what they do or who they promote, there are no guarantees that they will retain control. Hence the speculations concerning a third term in office for Putin himself.”

Kagarlitsky notes that “neither Putin himself nor his administration can say at this point how Putin would act if oil prices crash or protesting crowds go out on the streets.”

Ilya Milshtein stated in Novoye Vremya that about five years ago, some political analyst pointed out that whoever becomes president after Putin is more to be feared than Putin himself.

The author noted: “Indeed, the system being established by Putin is ideally suited to such an individual. Someone who’s even worse than Putin. His time is approaching.”

The only thing, which has become obvious, is that it’s hardly likely that Rogozin is such person. Novoye Vremya’s observer noted that “Rogozin is very dangerous for the president and his team.”

This is why Milshtein concluded that the only person worse than Putin might be Putin himself, if he becomes president for a third term. There are many possibilities – but we don’t need to think about them; after all, there are people who will make all the decisions for us.

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