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Russia
 
  „To Be or Not to Be“ after V. Putin (I)

Viktor Denisenko
2007 05 25

V. Putin repeated several times, that he would not seek a third presidential term, since this would contradict the Constitution of the country. Despite that, this does not prevent from forecasting his presidential future. Why?

First of all, Russia‘s society does not believe in the power of the Constitution. The recent events showed that constitutional rights and freedoms in the country are only of a declarative character. Russia is reproached for the authoritarian form of administration.  With a view to getting rid of these unpleasant talks, the Russian authorities declared to the world that it was developing democracy according to its own understanding and called this „a sovereign democracy“. However, the nature of authoritarianism does not change even when it is called “democracy”. Therefore the allusion to the constitutional provisions does not seem to be a serious argument as well.

Russia tries to present itself to the world as a democratic state. Although this seems to be nothing but illusion, the West is inclined to forgive Russia for many things. V. Putin knows perfectly well: if he violates „the taboo of a third term“, this illusion would be destroyed for good.

While flirting with the West, the Kremlin might use the Byelorussian image. In the context of Belarus Russia seems more democratic. Nonetheless V. Putin cannot do the same as A. Lukashenka did, i.e. to step over the constitutional principles. In this respect determination of V. Putin to leave the post of president after elections of 2008 seems quite understandable.  Besides, such a step would not mean full withdrawal from politics.

However, not everything depends on V. Putin. He is not fully free as one might suspect.

Since the year 2000 V. Putin has been creating around himself the so called „vertical of power“.  By gradually getting rid of the „political guards“ of B. Yelcin, he invited former colleagues from security institutions to the structures of power.

Withdrawal of V. Putin might be catastrophic to the entire „vertical of power“ and would mean inevitable changes, which the current Russian authorities are very much afraid of.  Therefore, in the first place V. Putin is not „a guarantee of Constitution“, but a guarantee of the current system so afraid of any changes. And at the same time he is a hostage.

At the end of the last year the above situation was analyzed by A. Piontkovski, an analyst of the liberal trend. He said that the nation, having consolidated with the liberal opposition, should help V. Putin to leave the post of president, since there are a lot of forces unwilling to release him.

 In any case, it is difficult to imagine V. Putin as a victim of intrigues. He does look neither weak, nor tired. Most probably the reason of his „headache“ is a dilemma on how to retain power and „democratic standing“ in the eyes of the West.

We should not forget that quite a big part of the Russian politicians while stating that „the nation will not let Putin go“, express its ambition to retain the current political system; therefore the third, the fourth etc. terms of V. Putin could serve as its guarantee.

The majority of the Russian citizens agree with the third term. They are also afraid of changes, since became used to certain economic stability due to high oil prices. For them V. Putin is a hero, able to say „to the rotten West“ what he thinks about it and its democracy, and proudly facing „the Russian enemies“, including Georgia, Poland, the Baltic States and, of course, the United States.

Therefore the Hamlet-like question „to be or not to be“ (i.e. “to stay or not to stay“) practically does not exist.  There is another question: how to do this without provoking major international fuss?

The background for the third term of V. Putin has been prepared long time ago. Back in 2001 this was mentioned by S. Mironov, the Chairman of the Federation Council. In January of this year, as in August of 2003, he has again suggested extending the term of the presidential authorizations up to five or even seven years and allowing for the same person to seek the post of president of the country for the third term.

Dumas of Magadan and Ivanov regions have also suggested extending the presidential term to seven years; in 2006, the Russian region of Caucasus has also „struggled“ for the third V. Putin‘s term.

In view of this, the conclusion could be made that V. Putin is simply forced to remain at the wheel of the country. His statements on reluctance to rule the country are not convincing; and the society has been prepared for V. Putin’s third term long time ago. It will be more problematic to do that with the West.

V. Putin himself tries to attune the West to this idea. At the same time he as if expresses sorrow for inability to do everything what has been planned, and highlights the importance of sustaining the executed policy. He as if reluctantly frightens the Russian citizens (and at the same time the Western world) that after his withdrawal stability (and first of all political stability) might vanish.

We can surely state that after the year 2008 V. Putin will not withdraw from politics. At the same time he would do his best so as to retain as much power in his hands as possible, since political and ideological changes might reveal yet unknown facts of „Nord-Ost“ or Beslan hostage tragedy, as well as murders of A. Politkovskaya and A. Litvinenko  (i.e. the facts which might be very adverse to V. Putin and his team). Therefore the struggle for „continuity of policy“ might be evaluated not only as a struggle for power but also as a struggle for own peaceful life.

Thus, V. Putin will remain in the political life of Russia. However it is not clear what role will he play – would he become „the Grey Cardinal“ or retain the post of president? Would he be able to continue „the game of democracy“ or openly chose the road of totalitarianism?

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