October 03, 2007

Putinâ??s Plan

I saw this coming. Really, I did...

For months, I have been privately sharing a prediction about Putin's succession plan. Unfortunately, I really cannot prove it, since I never committed the prediction to print. So you're going to have to trust me on this.

Same thing happened back in the 1980s, when I correctly predicted the Andropov-Chernenko-Gorbachev succession before each slogging step. But of course I did not put that in print either. There were no blogs back then.

Yesterday, Putin announced he would be running at the head of United Russia's ticket ("gratefully accepting" the offer the same way CPSU bosses used to humbly accept their party seat nominations), and that he thought that serving as PM after his departure was a "realistic idea" (1) if United Russia swept the Duma in the Dec. 2 elections and (2) if a "worthy candidate for the presidency" was selected.

Is it just me, or does this smack of Ivan IV's (the Terrible) demand of the boyars in January 1565?

In 1564, Ivan ostensibly abdicated the throne and retreated to Aleksandrova Sloboda. The boyars begged him to return, each fearing the rule of one of their rivals more than that of Ivan... And so Ivan agreed to return to power if he were granted two things: the right to punish all traitors as he saw fit (brutal execution being his preferred mode), and the right to set up a separate kingdom - the Oprichnina - with its own army, boyars, nobles, etc. The boyars agreed, and so began one of the most horrific chapters in Russian history.

Of course, historical analogies are always a stretch...

Anyway, for the record, here is what Putin is going to do. The actual mechanics could differ slightly. But the end result will be the same.

1. Soon after the December 2 elections, Putin will "Yeltsinovat": he will resign the presidency early, making PM Zubkov (a long time trusted coat tail rider and trusted caretaker figure) interim president. Elections will be required within 90 days. But then, presidential elections are set for March 2 anyway, so they will just be held on schedule.

[It is equally likely Putin will decide to not Yeltsinovat, and just let the elections take place as planned, anointing Zubkov or Ivanov or some other pawn as his preferred choice for president. But the outcome will be the same. On March 3, Russia will have a president of Putin's choosing.]

2. Zubkov will be elected president by a landslide, because it will be well-understood ahead of time that he is going to appoint Putin as his PM.

3. Putin will serve for a time as PM. But not likely for long. Because there are two problems with being PM. First, the Russian constitution and tradition puts all power in the presidency. Second, being PM puts you in the firing line and immediately blameworthy if the economy hiccups or worse.

4. After a suitable period of uneasiness without Putin in the Kremlin, Zubkov - who has reached the official governmental age of retirement already, by the way (see how neat this all is?) - will step down as president on health or age grounds. Putin, as PM, will assume the presidency on an interim basis, with elections to be held within three months.

5. Putin will coast to his third term in a shotgun election.

The Russian constitution only bars three "consequetive" terms as president. By this castling move, Putin sidesteps that problem and gains the right to serve two more terms as president. Could not this last bit be challenged in the Constitutional Court? Sure. But given the rubber-stampishness of the Russian courts, nothing would come of it.

So there you have it. Committed to print. Or at least pixels.

Let the show begin...

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