Vladimir Putin’s campaign for re-election is under way.

President Vladimir Putin flew a strategic bomber sitting in the pilot’s seat. The country was told that the president fired live missiles and had the bomber refueled in midair. Needless to say, he did nothing of the sort. It was a pure PR stunt, meaning that another early presidential campaign was on. The Kremlin is not going to wait for 2008, continuation of the presidential rating’s fall, or color revolutions. Operation Preemptive Strike is under way: Putin has to be elected president again (for at least seven years) while the opposition is divided and the Kremlin alone is ready for the campaign.

That was what happened in 2000 when everyone was expecting the election in June, on schedule, when Boris Yeltsin’s second term of office was to expire. But the president stepped down early, on December 31, making room for Putin while all the rest were not ready and did not have money in their coffers in the wake of the expensive Duma election, while the wave of patriotism caused by the invasion of Chechnya assured the successor a high rating.

That was when Putin boarded a nuclear submarine that submerged and flew to Grozny in a SU-27UB fighter. Next time, Putin dove before the new election, in February 2004, in the course of an exercise run by the Northern Fleet. It was an exercise where Sineva ballistic missiles were to be launched at a target on Kamchatka, like last week.

It goes without saying that Putin was in a different nuclear submarine, the Arkhangelsk, when the missiles were fired in February 2004. Colossal submarines of this class have no more solid-fuel ballistic missiles, all of them are being cut into pieces nowadays. In February 2004, the Arkhangelsk sailed out in order to give Putin a ride because being in a submarine firing a live missile is way too dangerous for a national leader.

Nowadays, in the political off-season when federal elections are still far in the future, Putin is suddenly flown in an aircraft and observes ballistic missile launches in the Barents Sea again. Media outlets faithful to the Kremlin told the people that it was the president himself who fired a conventional X-555 and executed midair refueling maneuver. Specialists know that this is rubbish, that no experimental missiles with live warheads are launched when the president is on board the vessel. By the way, the Defense Ministry reported the flight of three TU-160s two of which fired missiles.

Neither is it possible to execute midair refueling procedures when Putin occupies the pilot’s seat in the cockpit… As a matter of fact, with the distances involved, no refueling was needed in the first place.

The TU-160 crew numbers four men; there is no place for passengers in it. When Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made the first entertainment flight in a TU-160 two years ago, a lot of pilots were enraged. It was begging for trouble just for kicks, because the flight took off with only one pilot and nobody available to replace him because of the clown in the next seat. Were our Air Force commanders true servicemen and not lickspittles, they would have never permitted Putin and Ivanov aboard, political considerations or not.

It seems, however, that political considerations demand radical measures. The Constitution demands that Putin leave politics for good 2.5 years from now. Always determined and resolute on the matter of another term of office until recently, on a visit to Finland not long ago the president suddenly said that he would not mind remaining in the Kremlin. The Constitution did not permit it but “we have some time yet before 2008.” This revelation marked the beginning of preparations for the elections.

It was announced for example that political scientist, Gleb Pavlovsky, would host a weekly analytical program on NTV channel starting September. It cannot be anything but a temporary political project, something geared for the election. Just like the flight in a TU-160. With the time remaining before 2008, getting into TV is dangerous indeed. Putin’s heroic flight will be forgotten in a couple of years in the midst of price-rises, higher tariffs, and other inevitable troubles. As for Pavlovsky the host, everybody will surely be fed up with him sooner or later. What then? It means that the election was moved ahead, and we have bare months now. While the situation favors the Kremlin, no delays are to be tolerated.

A convenient excuse for amendment of the Constitution is all that is needed. Sources in the Kremlin say, for example, that they have a project of instant unification with Belarus ready. That will mean election of the president of the future Union – Putin – for seven years. Alexander Lukashenko was guaranteed the post of vice president but the Minsk ruler is still bargaining.

In any case, nobody is going to wait endlessly for Lukashenko (and Putin) to make up his mind. There is the fear of color revolutions to be taken into account. In any case, the ideology of Putin’s election essentially a lifetime president has already been chosen. It is military-patriotic and anti-Western.

No wonder Putin’s mingling with the common people (which he earnestly dislikes) coincided in time with unprecedented military exercises in the North where the involved units drilled operations against a potential enemy (the United States) and in the Pacific Ocean together with China.

It does not mean of course that Putin will want to radically change his policy if elected president again by tame election commissions, his fear of the spectrum of a democratic revolution forgotten for the time being. Like Uzbek President Islam Karimov, our president is prepared to bow to the West in everything as long as the latter supported his lifelong, unconditional, and corrupt regime. It will certainly be different; however, if Putin’s foreign partners changed the term and stopped viewing Lukashenko as “the only dictator left in Europe”.