The Russian Security Council as the new Politburo

Political analysts are increasingly inclined to believe that Vladimir Putin will not become prime minister next year. Neither will he become the speaker of the Duma. If he wants to retain power after leaving office, an enhanced version of the Security Council could offer the best opportunities.

Puzzling over political riddles, imagining well-known individuals in various configurations, is becoming a favorite pastime. The latest brain-teaser is this: will President Vladimir Putin become prime minister seven months from now? As we all heard, he isn’t ruling out that possibility for himself. Yet it’s somewhat uncharacteristic of Putin to be so open and candid about his plans. Could this be a false trail?

Political analysts are increasingly inclined to believe that Putin will not become prime minister. It would be a dubious career move – for three reasons.

1. The prime minister is always held accountable for any administrative or economic miscalculations and unfortunate combinations of circumstances.

2. Even a weak president can dismiss the prime minister at any time.

3. Putin’s close associates have always noted that he dislikes trivial routine tasks. In Russia, the office of prime minister doesn’t permit major initiatives. In fact, the job mostly consists of routine tasks.

To make things worse, food prices have started rising more rapidly – inflation is a problem. And there are even tougher times ahead as we approach 2011, since Gazprom has promised to raise domestic gas prices to international levels within four years. As a result, the prices of everything in Russia will rise by 40-60% all at once.

Given these prospects, analysts have started reading the tea-leaves again: what kind of job would be appropriate for Himself? Judging by Kremlin rumors, some members of Putin’s team are still captivated by legal illusions. They are inclined to believe that Putin’s vast store of management experience as head of state would be useful if he took the post of Duma speaker. This role would provide certain guarantees:

– the Duma cannot be dissolved within the first 12 months after the election;

– due to the obvious dominance of one party, the Duma will be quite manageable;

– the Duma can dismiss the government;

– the Duma can pass any and all legislation, disregarding the Federation Council;

– the Duma can impeach the new president.

And that’s not all. The Duma also passes the federal budget and monitors financial discipline via the Auditing Chamber.

For all the advantages of the Duma speaker’s office, however, those who know Putin best don’t believe there’s any chance that he’ll lower himself to the level of the federal parliament. It just doesn’t fit in with his mindset. In his time as president, he has rarely visited the Duma – and this says a great deal.

It’s something of a political tradition in Russia that real power doesn’t rest where the law says it should. If you recall, the Constitution of the USSR stated that the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Presidium was the leader – but in real life, the General Secretary played that role. These days we have the Public Chamber alongside the Duma, and the State Council busy behind the Federation Council’s back, and many of the Cabinet’s functions concentrated in the Kremlin administration.

A political tradition of this nature indicates that we can expect to see some particular link in the chain of power grow radically stronger. The most likely candidate for this role is the Security Council. It’s quite plain to see that the authors of our current Constitution modeled the Security Council on the Soviet Politburo. It is similarly non-public and unofficial, while uniting all the key figures. The difference that its existence is set down in the Constitution.

Thus, Putin might decide to head the Security Council – in a revised form. At present, the Security Council is entirely dependent on the president; it’s more like a safety-net for former state officials. But all it would take is a special federal law on the Security Council, plus a few amendments to the constitutional law on the government – and the Security Council would acquire some real weight, multiplied by Putin’s personal authority.

That special federal law should specify the Security Council secretary’s role, and reduce the president’s role in the Security Council to a representative role. After all, day-to-day management of the Security Council is beneath a monarch’s dignity. Suffice it to have a secretary who could be responsible for managing the current tasks of the siloviki (security and law enforcement agencies). Security Council members should include the Central Bank chairman and the chief executives of all state corporations – from Gazprom to Rosoboronexport. So the influence of this shadow body would become enormous, and continuity of power would thus be maintained. That’s the goal, after all. And according to our sources, the presidential administration has been taking an interest in this topic for some time.

Incidentally, the next Security Council meeting is scheduled to discuss corruption. There’s plenty of scope there: corrupt officials barely bother to hide.