May 6, 2008

What is Next for Vladimir Putin?

By Joel C. Rosenberg

(Washington, D.C., May 6, 2008) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered hundreds of state-of-the-art tanks, fighter jets and ballistic missiles to be paraded through Red Square last Friday, a chilling signal to Russia's neighbors and enemies, though Putin insists he bears no evil intent...."This is not sabre-rattling," Putin told reporters ahead of Russia's traditional Victory Day parade. "We are not threatening anyone and don't plan to.".....Oh really? Why then is Russia selling billions of dollars of weapons -- including missiles, fighter jets, submarines, nuclear technology and enriched uranium -- to Israel's enemies, and ours? Why is Russia building strategic alliances with enemies like Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria? Why has Russia repeatedly threatened neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine? [latest headline: "Georgia says 'very close' to war with Russia"] Why is Russia building vast new military and political alliances in Central Asia and Far East Asia?

On Wednesday, May 7th, Putin will ostensibly hand over the reigns of the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev, the baby-faced former law professor whom Putin hand-picked and personally anointed to take his place as president. But it seems unlikely that Putin will actually give up much -- if any -- real political power.

Putin says he plans on ascending to the role of Prime Minister. In the past, that has been a less powerful position, but in Putin's hands I expect it to become a vastly more powerful role. As I have written in the past, Putin seems intent on fashioning himself as the new Czar of Russia. He is centralizing power and wealth unto himself. He is silencing political and religious opposition. He is rebuilding the offensive capabilities of the Russian military. And he seems to be itching for a military adventure of some kind, an opportunity to show Russia's new might and reclaim the glory of Mother Russia. No wonder he has triggered the following headlines:

CBS, October 3, 2007

New York Post, October 7, 2007

Pravda (Moscow), November 26, 2007

CNN Special Report, November 20, 2007

Khaleej Times (Dubai), December 2, 2007

The Cold War is dead, but Vladimir Putin is very much with us
Air Force Magazine, December 2007

And let us not forget that on December 4, 2007, Time magazine named Putin its “Person of the Year.” The title of the cover story that followed? “A TSAR IS BORN.”....Now, could Medvedev eventually find a way to ice his benefactor out of the way and seize full control of Russia himself? It is conceivable, perhaps, but as of this writing seems unlikely. For starters, Medvedev is in every way Putin’s junior. He is twelve years younger that Putin, just 42 at the time of his “landslide” victory in a rigged (read: sham) election in March 2008. Medvedev is three inches shorter than his mentor, clocking in at 5’4” as compared to Putin’s already diminutive 5’7”. What’s more, while Medvedev has spent the last several years running Gazprom for Putin – the behemoth state-run gas monopoly that supplies 30% of Europe’s gas and has a market capitalization of $345 billion – he has precious little experience in the cut-throat, winner-take-all worlds of FSB intelligence or Kremlin palace politics.....Then, of course, no sooner did Putin select Medvedev for the job of president than his puppet blurted out that Putin would and should run the country anyway. “In order to stay on this path [of foreign and economic policy strength], it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology,” Medvedev told reporters. “It is not less important to maintain the efficiency of the team formed by the incumbent president. That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government.”....Putin, for his part, has made no bones about how long he plans to stay in power or whether he will be subservient to Medvedev. “I formulated the objectives for the development of Russia from 2010 to 2020,” Putin has told reporters, and “if I see that I can realize these goals in this position [of Prime Minister], then I will work as long as this is possible.”

When asked if he will hang President Medvedev’s portrait in his office? “I do not have to bow to [Medvedev's] portraits,” Putin stated without apparent humor.

One area to keep an eye on: Putin has been working quietly but steadily in recent years on creating a merger between Russia and neighboring Belarus. Is it possible that Putin could turn himself into a Czar of a new Russian-Belarus superstate? Or is this just a head-fake for a larger, even more ambitious power grab?

"One of Putin's main characteristics is to never disclose his plan until the last moment," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a foreign policy journal. "He allows all sorts of misimpressions to thrive, while he bides his time and decides what he wants to do."