Monday, December 17, 2007

Three IMPORTANT Articles

Putin Says He'll Be Prime Minister

MOSCOW (AP) - President Vladimir Putin told a congress of Russia's dominant party Monday that he would agree to become prime minister if Dmitry Medvedev is elected as his successor - and said he would not seek to make the premiership more powerful.

Putin's statement virtually ensures that the 42-year-old Medvedev, seen as business-friendly and non-hawkish, will be elected March 2.

When Medvedev got Putin's endorsement last week, he quickly proposed that Putin become prime minister after the election. Putin had not publicly responded previously.

Putin told the United Russia congress that if he became premier, he would not seek to change the distribution of power between the president and prime minister. In Russia, the prime minister is a significantly less powerful figure than the president.

But by remaining in a prominent position, Putin could continue to exert his enormous influence and personal popularity to direct Russian affairs. He has previously said that a victory in parliamentary elections by United Russia would give him the "moral authority" to ensure that his policies are continued. The party won the Dec. 2 vote with an overwhelming majority of seats.

"If the citizens of Russia show trust in Dmitry Medvedev and elect him the new president, I would be ready to continue our joint work as prime minister, without changing the distribution of authority" between the positions, Putin said.

The Perils of Putinism

The Wall Street Journal – Editorial

Plans for a transition of power were unveiled this week in Russia. The news is that there won't be one.

Many Russians and foreign investors alike were cheered by Vladimir Putin's clearest signal yet of his intention to stay in charge beyond March's presidential elections. Shares soared on his endorsement Monday of longtime aide Dmitry Medvedev to nominally take his spot in the Kremlin. Shares jumped again a day later when the heir apparent returned the favor and pledged to name Mr. Putin as the next Prime Minister with, so everyone presumes, stronger powers than the next President.

This choreographed switcheroo is Putinism to a tee. The President and his men trample on civic freedoms and concentrate power in the name of "order" and "stability." With the economy growing on the back of oil approaching $100 a barrel, up from $15 when Mr. Putin took office in 2000, complaints are muted -- sometimes by force. But of all people, Russians ought to have learned from history that personalizing and centralizing so much authority brings trouble down the road.

An old friend of Mr. Putin's from his KGB days told us this week that the President wanted to step down to establish a precedent for future Russian leaders. But in the same breath he said that it was too dangerous for Mr. Putin to step aside -- for Russia, and for Mr. Putin himself. This is largely true, and is another feature of Putinism.

The President has made himself indispensable to keeping the peace among his boyars. The 42-year-old Mr. Medvedev holds no sway over the influential Kremlin group of siloviky -- the ex-KGB men around Mr. Putin, a KGB colonel himself -- or the security services as a whole. To them, as well presumably to Mr. Putin, Mr. Medvedev's remarkable features are his loyalty and lack of any evident charisma. An added bonus for Mr. Putin is that his choice of sidekick-in-chief was hailed abroad as a "liberal" -- which is only true compared to the other candidates floated in recent months. Mr. Medvedev's first comments Tuesday were so deferential to Mr. Putin that no doubt was left about who will stay boss.

The Putinites have their own self-serving reasons for wanting the current regime to continue. Though less brashly than the oligarchs around Boris Yeltsin, the current establishment has done very well for itself in the past eight years. Dmitry Trenin, a Russian analyst at Carnegie's Moscow Center, writes in his new book "Getting Russia Right" that the same people "rule and own" the country. Having expropriated wealth from the previous crowd, they're worried that the same could happen to them.

Mr. Putin knows that leaving power is dangerous for a Russian politician. Every single previous national leader went out in a coffin (from natural or unnatural causes) or in disgrace. So he is looking for ways to protect himself by holding on to the reins.

This transition could have helped Russian democracy to mature. The country lost an opportunity in this decade of good economic times to build a proper and predictable political system around institutions rather than men. The blame falls squarely on Mr. Putin.

If all the President cared about was restoring economic health and Russian pride, he could have claimed credit for the few good reforms his government carried out (such as the flat 13% income tax) and rode the petroleum boom to the bank. But his actions reveal a deep unease about his own appeal to Russians.

The Kremlin went out of its way to destroy the free media, freeze out national opposition parties, cancel the elections of regional governors, and shrink independent civil institutions. The courts and the Duma were neutered, and elections made irrelevant. This month's parliamentary poll was the least free since Mikhail Gorbachev introduced perestroika.

A turning point was Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" in 2004. There, an Orthodox Slav nation rose against a corrupt and authoritarian clique in spite of a booming economy; this came too close to home for the Kremlin. In its wake, Mr. Putin has turned Russia's government into the most anti-Western outside of Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela. The recent campaign saw his nationalism hit a new high pitch.

The absence of democracy is dangerous for Russia, and the world. Putinism hangs on a single man. It denies Russians a proper outlet to discuss their problems. Others will be found. Fast rising inflation has brought impromptu demonstrations. The Kremlin has opened a Pandora's box by embracing neo-fascist youth groups and ideas that will be hard to control. After the thaw under Messrs. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Russian citizens are once again nothing compared to the power of the state, and they may one day rediscover a taste for liberty. All of this makes Russia unpredictable.

In the meantime, power struggles will continue among various factions inside the Kremlin, beyond view and unchecked by laws. Contrary to its own advertising, Putinism has sown the seeds of instability. The tapping of Mr. Medvedev and the prominent role carved for Mr. Putin in no way ends the great uncertainty about Russia's near- and long-term future. It merely accentuates it.

Medvedev's challenge

The Washington Times - Ariel Cohen

Dmitry Medvedev's endorsement as presidential candidate by four pro-Putin political parties and by Vladimir Putin himself ends months of guessing games. Mr. Medvedev's appeal to Mr. Putin to serve as prime minister not only confirms Mr. Putin will play a pivotal role in Russian politics after he steps down — it signals that Mr. Putin, not Mr. Medvedev, will remain the No. 1 politician in Russia for years to come.

If Mr. Putin agrees to serve, it is most likely he will be a super-prime minister, the "national leader" with responsibilities over foreign, security and defense policy. It is possible that after the March elections Mr. Medvedev will change the constitution or promulgate laws transferring control of some or all of these areas to Mr. Putin.

Russia fundamentally differs from Mexico, which in the last century was under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for 70 years. There, an outgoing president selected a successor, who then kept the former president safe. However, in Mexico, ex-presidents did not play an active role in government.

In the meeting with Mr. Putin I attended this past September in his Black Sea residence Sochi, he expressed hope he would continue to influence public affairs in Russia. "My successor will have to negotiate with me how we divide power," Mr. Putin said. Soon after, it became known Mr. Putin might become Russia's next prime minister.

Mr. Medvedev, media shy, is always keen to speak the language Westerners understand, hailing property rights, robust private sector, transparency and fighting corruption. He sounds serious and sincere.

However, as Mr. Putin will remain in the driver's seat, the chances for massive liberalization in strategic sectors, such as energy, remain meager. The Russian oligarchs, who are tight with top politicians, do not favor economic openness, which only breeds competition. Mr. Putin expressed his views in his Ph.D. dissertation, which hails the role of giant Russian state-owned natural resources companies in the global economy. Only the economic failure of such corporations could possibly force Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev to reconsider their statist approach.

Mr. Medvedev, a Putin protege, is perceived as a weak bureaucratic player and will require Prime Minister Putin's support as he consolidates power in the brutal world of Russia's political and oligarchic struggles.

In contrast to the judo black belt of Mr. Putin and other KGB veterans, Medvedev, a professor's son and a law professor himself, is soft-spoken and bookish. Having focused on domestic politics and policy, he lacks experience in foreign policy and national security and may depend on Mr. Putin's advice and support in these areas. He already has been called a "socially oriented president."

Despite his reputation as a market supporter, Mr. Medvedev is unlikely to be able to implement a classic liberal economic policy that can lead to more foreign investment and competition.

First, there are promises to keep, especially to the siloviki group — secret service generals who also control some of the choicest morsels of the economy. Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff Igor Sechin leads this faction and also is chairman of Rosneft, the largest Russian state-owned oil company.

The siloviki have recently taken a bit of a beating. The public fight between the Federal Security Service, headed by Sechin ally Nikolay Patrushev, and the Federal Anti-narcotics Service led by Putin ally Gen. Viktor Cherkesov, spilled into public view with Gen. Cherkesov penning a controversial op-ed in Kommersant, blasting his FSB competitors.

Mr. Putin also did not appreciate a recent Kommersant interview with Oleg Shvartzman, essentially a business manager for the Sechin-affiliated business group. He disclosed too many details about the inner workings of the group's Kremlin-affiliated Russian business for anyone's comfort, including offshore tax evasion and extortion by power elites. While these publications may have weakened the siloviki, their power is still immense, and Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev must take their interests into account.

Mr. Medvedev, lacking a KGB, military or other security background, needs to keep the siloviki appeased and may have a hard time getting control of the levers of power. He will need Mr. Putin's continued support.

Even if Mr. Medvedev ever stands on his own two feet, he must remember the Russian public, from the days of the Romanovs and the Soviet Union, has always been unenthusiastic, to say the least, about weak leaders: Nicholas II, Josef Stalin's heir Georgii Malenkov, Nikita Khruschchev, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin are all viewed with disdain by the majority of Russians, while many have a positive view of "strong leaders" such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, Mr. Putin and even the monstrous Stalin and bumbling Leonid Brezhnev.

Mr. Medvedev's greatest long-term threat is his perceived weakness. Historically, each regime in Russia has been markedly different from its predecessor. Thus, Mr. Gorbachev's reign differed from Mr. Brezhnev's, Mr. Yeltsin's administration differed from Mr. Gorbachev's, and Mr. Putin's rule was unlike Mr. Yeltsin's. Messrs. Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin all "campaigned" as the antithesis of their predecessors. Mr. Medvedev, on the other hand, is Mr. Putin's "official" heir and will find it impossible to shed his boss' control and vision even if he wants to.

Nevertheless, to succeed, Mr. Medvedev will eventually need to show his mettle, both in charting his own policy and by winning in power politics.

Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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