“My president may yet surprise everyone,” presidential aide Igor Shuvalov told the Americans last week. The Kommersant newspaper reports that Shuvalov made his statement in Washington, during a meeting at the Kennedy Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to Shuvalov, President Vladimir Putin’s surprise might take the form of a third potential successor candidate – alongside senior deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev. “People are talking of two potential candidates… Personally, however, I think that yet another figure may emerge,” said Shuvalov.
The Kremlin hastened to assure everyone that these words “must not be regarded as a statement by an official spokesman for the presidential administration.”
Having experienced the euphoria of recognizing the successor – alternating between Medvedev and Ivanov – analysts are now more skeptical. Some of them describe the latest developments as an attempt to “confuse public opinion” in the lead-up to the decisive phase of Operation Successor. Some say it’s driven by the need to sober up a great many members of the political elite who are over-confident that they possess “secret knowledge” about Ivanov being the successor. Others say this is an opportunity to divert a storm of criticism away from Medvedev and Ivanov.
As Kommersant observes, the suggestion that Putin’s actual successor will be someone other than the two senior deputy prime ministers is nothing new in itself.
All the same, says Kommersant, Shuvalov’s statement is noteworthy in several respects. Firstly, this is the first time that a Kremlin official has essentially described Ivanov and Medvedev as potential presidential candidates (even if he didn’t mention their names). Shuvalov said: “We have two active individuals – they are the senior deputy prime ministers, with different spheres of responsibility. Both are very liberal-minded, although one is a former KGB officer. Either of them could win.”
Secondly, this is the first time that the possibility of a “third successor” has been mentioned by a presidential aide, rather than some analyst who is independent of the Kremlin.
Thirdly, this statement was made in Washington, where interest in the question of who will succeed Putin is particularly high; and it was made by the official responsible for Moscow’s relations with the leading Western nations (Shuvalov is Russia’s G8 coordinator). Therefore, analysts are inclined to believe that Shuvalov wasn’t just expressing his personal opinion.
The Moskovskii Komsomolets newspaper argues that Putin has set himself an extremely ambitious political goal: the name of the leading candidate for president must not become known for certain until sometime close to the final stage of the 2008 presidential campaign. The reason for Putin’s behavior, according to Moskovskii Komsomolets, is understandable: he doesn’t want to turn into a lame duck like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has held his office in name only for the past year (Blair’s official successor, Gordon Brown, has been regarded as the real prime minister).
Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, maintains that Shuvalov is “taking part in a cover operation.” Makarenko told Kommersant: “Shuvalov has always been a disciplined official, and he must have been speaking within the framework of a set concept. This entails keeping public opinion in Russia and the West in a state of confusion and creating as much uncertainty as possible. After all, the sooner the successor question is clarified, the sooner Vladimir Putin will become a lame duck.”
Irina Khakamada, presidium member with the Popular-Democratic Union, also maintains that Shuvalov’s statement was sanctioned from the top. She told Kommersant: “Clearly, Shuvalov didn’t say this on his own initiative. He’s not an idiot: he will only comment on such matters when instructed to do so. This is part of the Kremlin’s preparations for Putin’s trip to America.”
Georgy Satarov, head of the InDem Foundation, suggested that “talk of a successor is being organized as part of an operation aimed at distracting attention from Russia’s problems.”
Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Globalization Studies Institute, also maintains that Shuvalov’s statement was coordinated with the Kremlin. In an interview with RBC Daily, Delyagin noted that Shuvalov “doesn’t seem like a village idiot, and he’s not a close personal friend of the president either,” but “no other categories of Russian officials can make such statements without permission from the top.”
Alexei Mukhin, general director of the Political Information Center: “Revealing the successor’s name would spoil the suspense. The Kremlin’s main objective is to preserve the balance of power between the potential successors all the way through to the end, maintaining uncertainty.” Moreover, according to Mukhin, the Kremlin is hinting at a third candidate in order to reduce the media pressure on the other two candidates.
RBC Daily lists some potential candidates from the reserve bench: Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin (also Cabinet chief-of-staff) and Russian Railroads CEO Vladimir Yakunin. “The concentration of money around these individuals enables us to talk of them as potential successors,” says Mukhin.
At this stage, the media are singling out Naryshkin as the leading contender for the “third successor” role. In an article entitled “Sergei Naryshkin Introduces Himself to Investors,” Kommersant did a comparative analysis of the economic policy views held by the deputy prime ministers regarded as successor candidates. The article was based on Naryshkin’s speech at a conference organized by the Renaissance Capital investment bank: “Russia: Investing in Prosperity.” For the first time, Naryskhin commented in detail on a number of key macroeconomic issues.
Naryshkin’s demonstrated zone of interests in the economic bloc of the government turned out to be fairly extensive, and his rhetoric was just as liberal as statements made by Ivanov and Medvedev. Kommersant concluded that Naryshkin’s overall approach to economic affairs is more or less similar to the positions held by Ivanov and Medvedev, but in a more precise and less aggressive form.
Moskovskii Komsomolets argues that Naryshkin has become “part of the presidential vaudeville act”: there can be numerous “third candidates,” and “as soon as everyone gets used to the idea of Naryshkin, they’ll come up with ‘certain signs’ pointing to somebody else.” All the same, Moskovskii Komsomolets says that Naryshkin shouldn’t be written off entirely.
According to his subordinates, Naryshkin is intelligent; he holds a degree in radio engineering and another degree in economics, and he can understand the essential points of any issue if necessary. But he cannot be described as a master of bureaucratic gamesmanship. As one source told Moskovskii Komsomolets, “Naryshkin doesn’t run the Cabinet staff – he mostly complies with its requests.”
Neither does Naryshkin have a team of his own that might help him take actual control of the Cabinet staff. His closest aides, Krotov and Golublev, are nothing more than professional apparatchiks.
Overall, Naryshkin is regarded as just a regular guy with outstanding people skills. His friends value his amiable personality and good singing voice. His subordinates value his impeccable courtesy and disinclination for “public whippings” or lengthy meetings. His colleagues value his ability to always keep his word.
Among Naryshkin’s advantages in the “successor race is the fact that he used to work with Putin at the St. Petersburg mayor’s office, and still has direct access to Putin. Insiders say that Putin usually grants Naryshkin’s requests. Moreover, Naryshkin is regarded as a close associate of Putin’s right-hand man, Igor Sechin. This factor could outweigh everything else, says Moskovskii Komsomolets: whatever happens, Sechin is sure to play a major role in the drama of 2008.
Two new presidential contenders have emerged in the opposition camp. Kommersant reports that at a meeting of the Yabloko party’s federal council last weekend, party leader Grigori Yavlinsky was identified as the most suitable presidential candidate. Yavlinsky himself noted that the final decision will be made by a party congress, and didn’t rule out the possibility of someone else becoming Yabloko’s candidate. “I know at least two people who could be candidates,” he said, bud declined to name any names, since “the papers would go after them.”
According to Kommersant, Yabloko announced that the purpose of its participation in the presidential election is “to prevent democracy from being discredited.” Yavlinsky dismissed as absurd the idea that former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko or Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky should run for president. Yabloko’s meeting did not discuss or criticize the candidacy of former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Yavlinsky only said that there had been some negotiations about the possibility of Kasyanov joining Yabloko, but as soon as Kasyanov realized that there was no possibility of him becoming the party leader, he chose a different path.
Another potential presidential candidate is Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennadi Zyuganov. He announced his intention to run for president at a press conference on Wednesday.
“The leader of a major party – a person whom half the country has voted for – must be prepared to have the people support him,” said Zyuganov in response to a question from RIA Novosti.
Newsru.com notes that Zyuganov’s comments about his own popularity were quite flattering: “There are only four or five people in Russia whose names are known in every village.” Moreover, the CPRF leader described himself as a substantial and experienced politician, saying that he has held about 350 meetings with members of the public in the past year, and at many of these meetings he “was asked about plans to run for president.”
Zyuganov noted that the final and official decision regarding the CPRF’s presidential candidate in 2008 will be made at a party congress.
Smart Money magazine doesn’t attempt to guess the name of Vladimir Putin’s successor, but argues that he is sure to be an economic liberal.
According to Smart Money, the powerful influx of money that is entering Russia thanks to high oil prices will be reversed three years from now. Thus, comparisons with the Putin era will not be in the new president’s favor. He will need to think about attracting investment, and this will force the state to abandon the role of Russia’s major investor, which it has assumed in recent years, yielding this role to the private sector. Maintaining labor productivity growth rates will become an increasingly acute problem, requiring job cuts.
Russia’s third president will also face the task of deregulating domestic prices for electricity and gas, in order to stave off an infrastructure collapse. The average Russian family spends 8.3% of its income on housing and communal services fees, but following deregulation this will rise to 20%, like in other countries with deregulated utilities markets.
Valery Mironov, an analyst from the Development Center, describes the next president’s greatest challenge as follows: “We are on the threshold of a transition from the first stage of growth in Russia’s ability to compete, based on cheap energy and labor, to the second stage, based on being attractive to investors.”
Smart Money concludes that Russia’s third president won’t be able to use “the heady effect of petrodollars” as an excuse for inaction.