EXTEMPORIZING FOR THE TRANSITION PERIOD

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President to prime minister: doing right by Russia

All the reasoning behind Putin’s latest actions, including the formation of a new “technical” Cabinet, indicates that Putin is preparing the way for a strong and independent successor. Putin sees his own role as a shield for the new president.


The United Russia party’s campaign congress produced a “sensation” anticipated by many: Vladimir Putin will remain in Russian politics even after March 2008. President Putin consented to head United Russia’s candidate list, as an unaffiliated candidate, and didn’t rule out the possibility of becoming prime minister next year. Putin’s conditions for assuming the office of prime minister are United Russia’s victory in the Duma election and the election of a new president who is a “decent, competent, and effective person.”

According to our sources, Putin’s primary reason for making this difficult decision is the political situation that is taking shape in Russia. A number of oligarch clans and politicians associated with them have been expecting Putin to turn into a lame duck, incapable of maintaining the hierarchy of governance; so they have decided to interfere in the Successor game. Rivalry between a number of individuals in certain Kremlin factions has also increased, with each seeking to promote his own successor candidate.

Putin realized that if Kremlin power-struggles have started already, things would probably get much worse after he steps down. To all appearances, the differences and conflicts between various groups could escalate into a serious political crisis once Putin is no longer in a position to keep them under control.

And that’s in the Kremlin: a relatively consolidated team. The parliament is even more vulnerable. Experts predict that even pro-Kremlin party leaders might start playing games of their own. Russia’s next president might run up against a kind of parliamentary Fronde, which would be able to dictate certain terms when it comes to appointing a prime minister and forming a government. And given the peculiarities of Russia’s elections, this would also mean a stronger role for the oligarch clans, which have already become more active in the media of late.

Under the circumstances, Putin (who no longer trusts the Kremlin’s political strategists) has decided to participate directly in the political processes of the “transition period.” By announcing his decision to head United Russia’s list and declaring that he might remain in politics as prime minister, Putin has made it clear to everyone that he has no intention of becoming a lame duck – no matter how strongly some have been hoping for that.

Heading United Russia will make it much more convenient for Putin to maintain order in the party ranks; if left unsupervised, many of United Russia’s politicians might start seeking better sustenance on the side. As prime minister, Putin would be able to assist the new president in fending off the oligarch clans – if only at the outset, until the successor can build up some political weight of his own. As prime minsiter, Putin could also take action to alleviate conflicts within the Kremlin.

Oddly enough, the Western media – including The Times – have interpreted Putin’s decision as an intention to seek a third term: shifting to the post of prime minister temporarily, then being re-elected president in an entirely constitutional way. But the Western journalists seem to be mistaken.

All the reasoning behind Putin’s latest actions, including the formation of a new “technical” Cabinet, indicates that Putin is preparing the way for a strong and independent successor. Putin sees his own role as a shield for the new president. Thus, we may hope that Putin’s experience and international standing may yet serve our country during the transition period which Russia has already entered. After all, taking responsibility for the country and ensuring its stable development are the key duties of a head of state and national leader.

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