Site map
0The virtual community for English-speaking expats and Russians
  Main page   Make it home   Expat card   Our partners   About the site   FAQ
Please log in:
To register  Forgotten your password?   
  Survival Guide   Calendars
  Phone Directory   Dining Out
  Employment   Going Out
  Real Estate   Children
   June 25
News Links
Business Calendar
Phone Directory
 Latest Articles
 Archived Articles
Analysis & Opinion
25.11.08 What’s The Catch?
Comment by Vladimir Frolov

Whether purposefully or unintentionally, Medvedev and Putin managed to create a situation where the constitutional changes, particularly the term of office extensions for the president and the Duma deputies, are increasingly perceived as solely intended to engineer Putin’s return to the presidency as soon as possible, perhaps even before Medvedev’s full term in office expires in 2012.

I have no idea whether this indeed is Putin’s plan. My educated guess, and hope, is that it is not. Putin and Medvedev are real lawyers and they take this legal stuff seriously. If anything, they understand that forcing Medvedev to resign ahead of schedule, which Putin can obviously do despite the fact that he serves at the pleasure of the president, looks horrible from a legal perspective.

But like everyone else, I look at the circumstances of the deal and they seem rather fishy. Consider the following. The initiative is totally out of sync with the pressing political agenda of the day. The transition of power has been accomplished flawlessly. The country is stable and public trust in Medvedev and Putin remains high. The regime is secure and can focus on the country’s modernization.

However, the global financial meltdown has affected Russia by dumping the prices of oil, metal and other commodities on which Russia’s export earnings, budget revenues, and currency reserves depend. The rapid and deep credit contraction is threatening to bankrupt entire Russian industries. The Russian financial markets have been wiped out in two months, and capital is scarce.

People are beginning to fear for their jobs and savings, and the ruble exchange rate looks increasingly dicey, with the price of oil below 50 dollars a barrel. This is what is on people’s minds today, not whether their president or the Duma have enough time in office to accomplish their political agenda. There was nothing in the air that suggested an urgent need for constitutional amendments.

The fact that Medvedev basically evaded these issues and, out of the blue, focused on constitutional reform, strongly suggests that the proposal had been in the works for quite some time and might have a hidden agenda. The war with Georgia and the global financial crisis served as political pretexts (although both still look like a big stretch) to push this thing through, just as the tragedy in Beslan in 2004 provided Putin with a pretext to cancel the direct elections of governors, which had obviously been planned before the terror attack.

The haste with which the reform has been pushed through the Duma is also alarming, and does little to dispel the speculation that it is done with one objective in mind –to engineer Putin’s return to the Kremlin next year.
The constitutional amendments have not even been debated by the Duma. The reporting Committee on Constitutional Legislation took just six minutes to approve the bills sent from the Kremlin. The Duma refused to consider any amendments to the package (only the Communists and the LDPR had proposed some), and initially wanted to pass the bills in three readings in one day (four readings are required, but only the first three matter). Someone in the Kremlin rightly thought that this would make Russia look like Turkmenistan, and the Duma dragged the approval process for the entire week. The arguments presented by the proponents of the reform looked, well, silly. The voting was Soviet style – entire factions voting as one. The Communists deserve credit for having the courage to vote “Nay.”
This feeling of unease is compounded by the rumors coming out of the United Russia Party that it plans to use its controlling majorities in almost all Russian regions to ensure the passage of the constitutional amendments by New Year’s Eve. What’s the rush?

Neither Medvedev nor Putin has either forcefully denied the rumor or straightforwardly said that this is not about Putin’s return to the presidency. Medvedev never said he intended to fully serve his term, just that the changes will not affect the sitting president. And Putin essentially ducked the question of his return by saying that it is too early to discuss who and when will be elected president for a new six-year term.

If anything, this comes across as “plausible deniability” to me. It fuels speculation, not dampens it. At best, this is bad PR and poor message coordination, at worst, it hints at the planned rotation.

I can understand the reasons Putin might have to rush the plan, if indeed such a plan exists. He might believe that he is the only person with sufficient credibility to take the country through the rough patch. He might justify it to himself that's he's doing it for Russia, that he is chosen to save the nation, just as he thought this way in 1999 when he became prime minister and Boris Yeltsin’s successor in the midst of a national meltdown.

The problem is that he would be wrong this time around. His return to the Kremlin in such an artificial way would be destabilizing, and would make the economic crisis worse for Russia. It would reinforce an already strong sense among Russian and international investors that Putin and his people are more interested in holding on to power than anything else. It would also convey the sense of panic and frustration within the top Russian leadership and their uncertainty on how to handle the crisis. And it would diminish Putin himself. He should keep in mind what happened to one of his role models – General Charles de Gaulle of France, after his less than impeccable return to power in the late 1960s.

Still, I am not fully convinced that we are going to see Putin in the Kremlin some time around next March. That is because I know from a well-placed Kremlin source that the constitutional reform plan also envisioned capping presidential terms to just one. The fact that this particular detail has somehow disappeared from the reform package at the last moment is an ominous sign. But who knows, maybe someone will dig it up.
The source
Copyright © The Moscow Expat Site, 1999-2024Editor  Sales  Webmaster +7 (903) 722-38-02