Ah, the old Soviet style system, redux:
President Vladimir Putin’s future political plans looked a little clearer Tuesday when the man he backed to replace him as president indicated that he would in turn offer Putin the post of prime minister.
Analysts here and abroad have long been speculating about how Putin, 55, intends to retain influence after his second term as president ends next May.
His apparent plan unfolded with, first, his appointment last September of a little-known bureaucrat to the prime minister’s post; then Putin had himself placed at the top of the electoral list of the country’s largest party, United Russia, ahead of Dec. 2 parliamentary elections that United Russia easily won; and finally both United Russia and Putin on Monday named Dmitry Medvedev as their favored presidential candidate, making his victory in the election next March a formality.
Medvedev, who is currently first deputy prime minister, on Tuesday in turn announced that if he wins the election, he will ask Putin to assume the post of prime minister and head the next government.
In a televised speech, Medvedev pledged to sustain the Kremlin’s current policies and Putin’s team. In televised remarks marking the start of his presidential bid, Medvedev suggested continued government funding of a variety of social problems.
When Putin in October announced that he would lead the United Russia list – although not become a member of the party – he said he may consider serving as prime minister in the future, on condition the party won the parliament poll, and if a “decent, efficient and modern” man succeeds him as president.
Many expect the presidency may become a more ceremonial position, although Putin has made it clear he does not intend to change the balance of power between the president and premier.
Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who plans to join the presidential race, questioned the pledge, saying it was “possible [for the president] to pass most powers to the government” without amending any laws, and predicting that a Putin-led cabinet could increase its clout significantly.
The Putin-Medvedev quid-pro-quo scheme did not come as a surprise to Russian politicians and observers.
Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, called Medvedev’s plan “businesslike,” saying that a partnership between Medvedev as president and Putin as prime minister would be positive for Russia’s development domestically and internationally.
Oleg Morozov, one of the leaders of United Russia, said the plan would allow the party to control both the executive and legislative branches of power, regardless of whether the two were actual party members. Neither of the two are currently members of United Russia.
Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of the opposition Yabloko, said Medvedev’s offer to Putin was predictable and showed the Kremlin’s intention to maintain the system of power. At the same time, he said Medvedev’s previous liberal stances raise hope that Russian policies may undergo some positive changes.
Medvedev’s initiative could lead to a more pluralistic system of government, said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation, a Moscow-based think-tank.
On the other hand, Nikonov noted that the succession plan could also see Putin return to the presidency in 2012 and extend his power into the 2020s. The Russian constitution prohibits more than two consecutive presidential terms but allows for a former president to run again after a break.
The constitution could also be changed to remove the term restrictions – and United Russia’s parliamentary win gives it enough seats to initiate constitutional amendments – although Putin has said he will not change the constitution to enable him a third consecutive term.
Pretty slick there, Putin. Help get a lackey into office and use the little sock puppet to pave the way for your return to power.
Then there’s “Mad Vlad” Zhirinovsky, who wants to restore Imperial Russia to include Finland and Alaska.
What a collection of wannabe Czars.
According to the Russian Tass News Agency, Putin’s public approval ratings couldn’t be better:
Opinion polls now show an increased level of public support for President Vladimir Putin. His popularity is at an all-time high, which is completely unprecedented for any elected leader approaching the end of his second term. The public wants and expects Putin to remain in a powerful leadership role. The debate as to exactly what mechanism he will use to achieve that has intensified, with the pros and cons of a role as prime minister being widely discussed. There is also a view that Putin may choose to avoid a formal role but could act as a “president-in-exile” – sort of like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, but with the option to return.
……A poll conducted by the Russia Public Opinion Center (VTsIOM) over the past two weeks shows support for Putin increasing: 66% of those polled said they would vote for Putin if an election were held this month. This is up from 60% last month. The president’s approval rating is also rising and according to the VTsIOM poll is now at 83% (up from 82%) with approval not only from United Russia supporters (95%) but also from other party supporters. For example, 58% of people who say they will vote Communist also approve of the work of the president.
It’s hard to guage an authentic opinion because the Kremlin still implements a State-controlled media. The murder of an ex-KGB spy for instance, goes unpublished:
Fred Weir, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, who is based in Moscow, about the Russian public’s reaction to news of Alexander Litvinenko’s death. Weir says most of the Russian public actually doesn’t even know about the case, because the big Russian media outlets are not carrying the story. Weir also points out that although Litvinenko publicly blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning, Litvinenko lived in a shady world, and there were plenty of others who might have wanted him dead.
Litvinenko by the way, was investigating the assassination of a Russian journalist when he was murdered:
Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist, was brought down in a hail of bullets by ‘unknown assailants’ who escaped without a trace.
In her book “Putin’s Russia”, she wrote:
“I have wondered a great deal why I have so got it in for Putin. What is it that makes me dislike him so much as to feel moved to write a book about him? I am not one of his political opponents or rivals, just a woman living in Russia. Quite simply, I am a 45-year-old Muscovite who observed the Soviet Union at its most disgraceful in the 1970s and ’80s. I really don’t want to find myself back there again.”
Putin also signed into law a government program known as “SORN”, which gives the Kremlin total access to private citizen’s internet server information. This is not for legitimate national security concerns, but to simply squash dissent.
Vladimir Putin is putting all the steps in place for his reascension to power.
Which means Comrade Putin should be ‘president’ again by the next decade.