Following Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in session, a veritable flurry of articles have appeared effectively declaring his candidacy for the 2012 presidential election. Yet I still feel that this is unlikely.
As journalists looking at Russia from our western pedestal, it’s all too easy to see intrigue and infighting without having to try (or think) too hard. “Look!” we say, “Putin won’t deny that he’s going to run.” And in the umbrella-stabbing world of intrigue that is Russian politics this surely means he’s going for President Dmitri Medvedev’s jugular.
Yet here’s a more pertinent question to ask: why would he declare himself out of an election that is still, in terms of recent developments in the Russian political landscape, an age away? He is the most powerful politician in the country, and singlehandedly (sorry Dmitri) drove the party United Russia to victory in the parliamentary elections last year. Without him, or faced with the prospect of being without him come 2012, his party’s position, along with the president’s, would be greatly weakened. And as history has shown, perceived weakness and division is nearly always punished by democratic electorates.
So Putin has a strong motivate to be seen to be contemplating a return to the summit of the Kremlin hierarchy. It might even have the added benefit of discouraging pretenders to the throne from trying to destabilise the president incumbent.
That said, it’s still interesting to speculate about what would happen if he actually ran and won. For a start, the perception of Russia on the global stage would be cemented as a backwards-looking, authoritarian state. Putin’s reinstatement would justify accusations that United Russia gives lip service to the country’s constitution in order to legitimately undermine it. The joyous critics would shout that the siloviki, former members of the KGB who have worked their way into politics, have succeeded in their malicious plot to cement power.
Secondly, Putin would weaken any potential candidate who might follow him, as they would arrive with the puppet tag even more firmly attached. If the commentary on Medvedev in Britain is anything to go by, a future successor faces complete ridicule from the off. Russia can ill-afford to belittle the constitutionally vital role of president by making it Putin’s…