WHAT WILL THE NEW POLITICAL YEAR BRING FOR RUSSIA?

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Russian politics in 2007: five experts make their predictions

What will happen in Russian politics in 2007? We asked some leading politicians, analysts, and journalists: Sergei Markov, Mikhail Leontiev, Vyacheslav Nikonov, Alexei Venediktov, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Sergei Stepashin.


What will happen in Russian politics in 2007? We asked some leading politicians, analysts, and journalists.

According to Sergei Markov, director of the Political Studies Institute, the political year of 2007 will differ from the calendar year in ending on March 2, 2008 rather than December 31, 2007. “This year will continue until the presidential election – that is, until it is decided who the next master of the Kremlin will be.”

Question: What kind of role will be set aside for Putin?

Sergei Markov: The primary role. He’ll be the leader of a kind of moral-political coalition, including both political parties and non-governmental organizations. This coalition will nominate the next president as a candidate in the election. Putin will also become the leader of the parliamentary majority, and that majority will vote to endorse a prime minister nominated by Putin.

Putin will be accepted as the leader of a coalition of Russian mega-corporations – Russia’s business club, so to speak. This may include Gazprom, Rosneft, RAO Unified Energy Systems, Russian Railroads, LUKoil, Surgutneftegaz, Russian Aluminum, VneshTorgBank, and SberBank.

According to Markov, a new national idea for Russia will make its appearance at long last – during the parliamentary election campaign. Markov, whose political forecasts are usually about 80% accurate, even agreed to name a few “suitable options” for this national idea:

1. Social justice.

2. Development and modernization.

3. The ethnic/national question.

4. Law and order, and fighting corruption.

* * *

Mikhail Leontiev, economist and host of the “Odnako” television program, says that this year’s main event might be the ruble’s transformation into a “full-fledged sovereign currency” – it will cease to be “a fragment of the dollar.”

Mikhail Leontiev: Our volume of currency in circulation and our whole financial policy are still determined by the influx of dollars, while our Stabilization Fund and gold-currency reserves are mostly invested in US assets. We have one year to establish a sovereign system that’s disaster-proof to some extent, at least – shielded from the cataclysms that may befall the dollar-based economy. This is what the Asian states are preparing for, as they move to establish a currency of their own. This is what the Europeans are already prepared for, with the euro.

We need to make the ruble the established currency within the former Soviet Union, at least. We need to stop holding our currency reserves in dollars. We need to invest the Stabilization Fund in Russia.

If this happens, we shall become one of the leading powers in the multipolar world of the future; if not, we’ll cease to exist as a sovereign state. We need to change our economic policies – or we’ll have to change our country.

* * *

Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, predicts a crisis in relations with Belarus – due to the natural gas issue. This could also cause complications in relations with the West.

“My impression is that in such a situation, both Europe and America would probably side with Belarus rather than Russia,” says Nikonov. “They would say that Russia is punishing Minsk for Lukashenko’s refusal to dance to Moscow’s tune.”

But there could be even more trouble ahead. Due to Poland’s veto, Russia might be unable to sign a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union in 2007.

“Anti-Russian attitudes in the United States will increase,” says Nikonov. “To be honest, I’m not expecting any breakthroughs in relations with the West over the next year, or even the next two years.”

* * *

Alexei Venediktov, chief editor at Echo of Moscow Radio, sees a change of government on the horizon of 2007. But this influential journalist, whose forecasts (especially regarding individual politicians) often prove correct, includes a proviso here: “A change will happen only if President Putin’s successor isn’t another Fradkov.”

Putin once said that his successor will be a politician whose name “isn’t being mentioned as yet.” This implies that we should expect the elevation of an unknown – a Fradkov II.

“If there is a change of government, then this designated successor (and no one is ruling out deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev) would become the prime minister. He might head the United Russia party’s candidate list in the Duma election.”

In other words, the successor – whoever he may be – will have a lot of work ahead of him.

* * *

Viktor Chernomyrdin, former prime minister and now Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine, maintains that a dismissal of the Fradkov Cabinet (which many expect to happen as soon as January) must not become the main event of 2007.

“It would be better if it didn’t happen at all,” Chernomyrdin explains. “An election year is a difficult period in any case, without replacing the government as well. How would any work get done? Over the past few years, all government institutions have worked as a team, harnessed together – that’s why Russia has made some progress. We should keep that up.”

But Chernomyrdin also includes a proviso: “New tasks and objectives are emerging, connected with the parliamentary and presidential campaigns. Some Cabinet ministers may need to be replaced for those purposes. But I’m not saying they ‘must’ be replaced – only that they ‘might’ be. Who will be replaced with whom? That will depend on the objectives.”

* * *

Another former prime minister – Sergei Stepashin, now chairman of the Auditing Chamber – says that “election campaign emotions” don’t pose any threat at all to Russia’s stability.

“Russia has crossed the dangerous Rubicon,” says Stepashin. “Another reason why this is not a threat is that our political parties have started to become more distinct. Their voices are coming through. For example, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov has suddenly demonstrated something of his own. United Russia’s behavior has changed somewhat, becoming more active – it’s preparing to use influence rather than numbers to retain its place in parliament. Yet we should also bear in mind some obvious social policy errors: we still haven’t managed to solve the problems there.”

In terms of the elections and preparations for them, Stepashin says that the next campaigns will be different: “The last elections were largely predictable, and their results were obvious – Vladimir Putin’s second term ‘flowed on’ from his first term, so to speak. But now we’ll have to start from a clean slate in some respects. In my view, this will be a serious test for Russia’s democracy. But I think our democracy will pass this test.”

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