From the January 8, 2008 Insight
January 4, 2008
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
Events this December have set Russia's political configuration for the immediate future.
Yet Russia remains highly unstable. If on 10 December, when Putin nominated his successor, he had chosen Viktor Zubkov rather than Dmitry Medvedev, this would have been tantamount to unashamedly claiming a third term. Two or three months after his inauguration, the elderly Zubkov would have been pensioned off on grounds of ill health; this would leave the way open for Putin to be quite legally elected for a third term, which effectively would have meant, for life.
Alas, according even to the manifestly inflated official statistics, only 40 percent of the electorate turned out to vote the way Putin had requested: for the United Russia party. In a democratic country, that result would leave any politician overjoyed.
But we are talking about Russia, a country where it is cold and lonely at the pinnacle of power. For a national leader, what the Germans once called a Fuhrer, 40 percent is pretty pathetic, and not even the subsequent mass parading of members of the Putin-Jugend could disguise the fact.
Putin is, of course, an admirer of all things German. He will certainly have watched Hitler's newsreels and can compare them: Germany's Gretchens of the 1930s really did long to bear a child to their adored Hitler, but the girls being bussed into Moscow from the provinces really want only one thing from Putin"a pager. He has not transmogrified into a leader of the nation. He thought better of openly bidding to become president for life and has instead nominated a relatively young successor. Not having the courage and determination to relinquish power completely, he has clutched at the post of prime minister, which is something of a comedown for a former president.
I suspect no small part in this decision was played by the fact that, for roughly the past month, the world's most respected newspapers"The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Die Welt, The Guardian"have been animatedly discussing the composition of his personal fortune. This has been estimated at $41 billion, with a 37-percent share of Surgutneftegaz contributing $18 billion; 4.5 percent of Gazprom adding $13 billion; and 50 percent of Gunvor providing a further $10 billion.
A president or prime minister of Russia can, from his great height, ignore libellous claims in the Western bourgeois press, but as a private citizen V.V. Putin would have some explaining to do. Be that as it may, Putin's vacillation has placed an enormous explosive charge under the entire Russian political structure.
From May 7, 2008 Russia will have two tsars, a situation which, as we know from our long history, is inherently unstable and cannot last long. Dmitry Medvedev is a colorless bureaucrat who has never held elective office. He has served in a variety of positions over the years, including acting as a legal aide to Putin, as the president's chief of staff, as deputy prime minister, and as chairman of Gazprom. In other words, Medvedev has never strayed far from Putin, which makes him seem a reliable pawn.
The last, but not the least, reason for Putin's choice must be that his successor is two inches shorter than the diminutive president himself. Medvedev's nomination was promptly greeted by the Western media as a clear sign of Putin's coming departure, and the most enthusiastic commentators even began talking about an imminent Medvedev thaw or Medvedev perestroika. The following day, however, the president-in-waiting submissively asked Putin to be his prime minister next spring, demonstrating beyond any doubt who will remain the alpha male in the Kremlin pride.
Don't let us forget, though, that several times in Russian history a jester-tsar has unexpectedly turned out to be an entirely real tsar, to the consternation of those who had thought to place him temporarily on the Kremlin throne. The latest example is Mr. Putin himself, appointed tsar of Russia by Berezovsky and the Yeltsin family in 1999.
In any case, beginning May 7, 2008 there will be two tsars in Russia. This kind of power configuration simply will not last.
Who knows? Perhaps, like Comrade Kirov 74 years ago, he will be tragically assassinated by "enemies of the people at the behest of forces abroad".
Let me conclude with an elegant New Year suggestion which, I believe, will solve both Putin's personal problem and the problem of Russia's political stability. This should allay the critics who often reproach me in my homeland for being over-critical of the government without offering any positive remedies Gazprom, Surgutneftegaz, and Gunvor should establish a prestigious prize in recognition of "An Outstanding Contribution to Revival of the Russian Economy and Orthodox Spirituality."
The money associated with the prize should be $ 41 billion. Messrs Miller, Bogdanov and Timchenko, the respective CEOs of the three firms, should then contribute a proportion of their companies' equity to the prize fund, precisely corresponding to the stakes bandied about in the world press. The prize could then be unanimously awarded"and presented in the Temple of Christ the Redeemer in a solemn ceremony officiated at by the Patriarch of All Russia"to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. In this way, the Herculean labors of Mr. Putin in reviving the Russian economy would receive just recognition. At the same time, the fortune he is said to have amassed would be legalized and the carpet pulled once and for all from under any would-be blackmailers or calumniators.
He could finally step down from power, free from the fear of slanderous allegations of corruption. Russia would be delivered from a dangerous and unstable period of dual power.
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.
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