Even the most passive Russia-watcher will have by now learned of the growing ‘movement’ to retain President Putin as ‘moral leader’, tsar[?], dictator for life. I will not try and review the coverage in detail, which has already been done exhaustively at Scraps of Moscow. (Readers will not want to miss the opportunity to vote for Putin at the ‘Za Putina’ site) The most recent development was at Putin’s press conference yesterday in Krasnoyarsk. Specifically, Putin said that if United Russia won a majority in December’s elections, then he would “have the moral right to hold those in the Duma and the Cabinet responsible for the implementation of the objectives that have been identified so far.” It should be noted that Putin’s remarks, similar to other instances where he has spoken about his political future, were not in his prepared speech but rather in response to a question. So which narrative does this statement fit into?
1. Plan Chavez – Putin will stay on as President, despite the constitutional prohibition against a third term – Putin has explicitly said he won’t do this so many times, I can’t believe it’s still a subject. In the words of Dmitri Peskov in response to the ‘third term’ movement – “The attitude of the president is very clear and is not flexible. He will quit.”
2. Russian Orientalism – Putin will stay on as dictator for life, just like the pensioners at all those rallies want – it’s my sense that, if Putin refuses to even change the current constitution in order to legitimize a third term (which he could do), then it stands to reason that he wouldn’t take any action that is even more violative of the rule of law.
3. PM Putin – much more likely, and likely to be beneficial, in my opinion. Putin worries about his successor using all the unchecked power he amassed in a way that weakens Russia. Solution? A resurgent legislature with a wildly popular Prime Minister who also has the support of the military, just in case.
4. Rock the Vote Putin – it should be noted that Putin’s remarks also came close to propaganda in support of United Russia, which he said is the best party “[b]ecause we don’t have anything better.” Ouch. Perhaps Putin is concerned with his party’s recent drop in the polls? Indeed, by linking his legacy and the future “implementation of the objectives that have been identified so far” to the success of United Russia in December, Putin seems to be saying to Russians, “You can’t vote for me in March, but you can in December.”
5. It’s Not Paranoia If They’re Really Out to Get You – okay, so despite incredible stories of all power being concentrated in President Putin’s hands, Russia’s pretty fu***ng crazy. In fact, there are many centers of power, at all levels of government. For example, Mark Ames at the eXile recently wrote an excellent piece on the ‘clan warfare‘ within Putin’s circle. Is it partially Putin’s fault that there is no system, no institutions to resolve conflicts like this in his absence? Yes. But nobody can argue that he inherited a system or institutions that did have that capacity, or that things were any different under Yeltsin’s oligarchy. Thus, Putin is worried about his imminent irrelevance and maybe fears for his safety as well. By sustaining the idea of his continued influence, Putin is causing would-be troublemakers to think twice.