Monday, June 25, 2007

Thoughts on the Succession Question in Russia

I took part in Russia Profile's experts group on the question of what happens after 2008. If Vladimir Putin decides to return to the presidency in 2012, when he will constitutionally be permitted to run again, what arrangements might be made for the "transitory period" between 2008 and 2012?

Some excerpts:

Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations wrote, "The best person to act as Putin-II is, however, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. He will certainly allow Putin to return to the top office as soon as possible. He may even be willing to sacrifice power even earlier than 2012. Fradkov is said to be in poor health, which may be another argument for Kremlin strategists to envision him stepping in Putin's shoes in May 2008 - for a limited period of time.

"Fradkov's candidacy would satisfy the conflicting power groups of Igor Sechin and Vladislav Surkov in the Kremlin administration. The problem with Fradkov is that even if he agrees to substutute for Putin, he must be elected. Would the Russian voters support such a spectacle? To put Fradkov on the Russian throne for four years, the Kremlin players would need to exclude any popular opposition candidates from running in the presidential race. Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky could become very dangerous opponents for Fradkov. And what will Ivanov say? Will he feel misused, exploited for another political spectacle? If Putin and his closest circles want to play out the Fradkov-Putin scenario, they must popularize it now."

This follows along what I had noted:"Is there a similar consensus among the Russian supreme elite that Putin is the “indispensable” politician whose presence is required to keep his system functioning? Would springing a surprise “successor” be accompanied by some sort of formal pact freezing all ministerial and presidential appointments? Would there be a last-minute effort to create some sort of Russian analog to China’s central military commission, where Putin would enjoy de facto recognition as the “paramount leader” with others filling the formal positions of president and prime minister? It seems that, with so little time left, any such effort would be haphazard and slipshod."

There are a number of other interesting comments and as one can see opinion is spread all across the spectrum.

Anyone who takes himself out of the day-to-day flow of the policy-making and execution process will gradually find his powers diminished And whoever winds up as president in 2008 must be presumed to be a reasonably proud, ambitious, and competent man, even if he were the least plausible of the candidates. Otherwise, he would not have survived and wound up where he was. Besides, if all goes well, there will be no need for the St. Petersburg clique to go back to Putin in 2012. And in the unlikely event he is able to maintain effective control and things nevertheless turn out to be a mess, the power behind the throne would also be discredited. If you are going to be a white knight, you will not be able to enter in soiled armor.

These and other conjectures, based in part on very different readings of Putin's capacity and character, can be made, as the Russia Profile article shows. But the sheer array of different scenarios says that he would be a fool to decide on a return to the presidency in 2008 and make all his arrangements for the interim by working back from that single premise. He seems to be a guy who knows what he's doing (although all that oil money helps make him look good). My guess is, he'll put in place someone who broadly shares his outlook on Russia (aren't the candidates all more or less liberal/authoritarian versions of Putin?), take up some kind of important, high profile position, and act like King Bhumibol, conserving his formidable political capital and intervening only when leaders (and the public) come to him. A full-scale return to power is the most extreme of such a contingency.
And the circus that is the American presidential race produces a better outcome?
I'm impressed by the fact-based reasoning of the contributors, apart from Dr. Steven Blank. Surely in his PhD program he was told of the need to have a fact or two to back up his assertions, and that assertions are not strengthened by vitriol or amateur psychoalalysis-at-a-distance?
it is fanny IMHO
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