Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 8:30 AM
Indeed, even I was so convinced of Putin’s deceitful intent that here’s what I predicted about a putative Putin v. Kasparov contest for the presidency next year:
“Putin remains so popular amongst Russia’s (new) oligarchs and proletarians alike that Kasparov’s calls for a democratic revolution make him more analogous to John the Baptist preaching in wilderness than Thomas Paine rallying revolutionaries to fight against tyranny.” [April 2007]
Furthermore, this match-up seemed all but certain when Kasparov emerged as the consensus leader of Russia’s fractious opposition coalition – comprised primarily of a mishmash of die-hard democratic reformers, unreformed nationalists and intellectual leftists…. (On Sunday, at a national congress of this coalition (the “Other Russia”), Kasparov won 379 of 498 votes to become their standard bearer.)
But Putin upset expectations and confounded his critics a few weeks ago when he suddenly dissolved the Russian Parliament and appointed Russian chief financial regulator, Viktor Zubkov, as prime minister. Because the clear intent was that he was grooming Zubkov to be his successor, just as Boris Yeltsin had groomed him.
Yet here’s what I wrote about Putin’s advance of this useful pawn:
I rather suspect that Putin’s appointment of Zubkov has more to do with protecting the billions of dollars he siphoned off from the oil companies he nationalized, than with his Stalinist ambition to serve as Russia’s president for life.After all, what better way to ensure Zubkov’s trust, if not complicity in this regard, than a quid pro quo in which Putin makes him president, and Zubkov launders Putin’s loot…?
Besides, Putin could even allow the 65-year old Zubkov to serve two terms and still be a relatively young 63 when it becomes his “rightful” turn to reclaim the presidency in 2016.
Alas, it turns out that Putin is not prepared to give even his handpicked successor that much control over his Russia. Because last week he dropped yet another political bomb by announcing his acceptance of a draft petition by Russia’s most dominant political party, United Russia, to become their new leader.
More to the point, however, Putin stressed the fact that even though the constitution rules out a third consecutive term as president, it provides no prohibition against his becoming prime minister – a prospect he declared as “entirely realistic”.
Of course, having appointed Zubkov caretaker prime minister, Russia’s political chessboard now seems set for Putin to merely move into Zubkov’s office, and vice versa, in due course – scheduled “democratic” elections notwithstanding….
Now, if only we could be privy to the private session in which Putin dictates to Zubkov the terms of their working relationship that will ensure that he remains the most powerful man in Russia – despite assuming a title that is constitutionally junior to Zubkov’s.
But Putin should be commended for consolidating such totalitarian and enduring power by just sending a few Jewish oligarchs to the gulag, instead of killing millions and incarcerating millions more the way Joseph Stalin, the man whose reign he seems determined to emulate, did.