When President Dmitry Medvedev submitted legislation to the State Duma last week proposing extending the presidential term from four years to six, it sent the Moscow punditocracy abuzz with anticipation that Putin was gearing up for a return to the Kremlin.
This week, however, the talk is all about Putin getting himself named speaker of the State Duma.
Prime Minister. President. Speaker. But does it really matter?
A brief story in today's "The Moscow Times" by Nabi Abdullaev had an interesting little nugget suggesting that it doesn't. Putin is planning to continue his tradition of holding a televised question-and-answer session with ordinary citizens via video link early next year. It will be Putin's seventh such session, and his first since leaving the presidency.
Abdullaev quoted an unidentified senior official from the ruling Unified Russia party as saying that with the broadcast, Putin "will act more in the role of party leader than prime minister."
It has become abundantly clear that Putin will continue to be Russia's true ruler. But the true source of his power will not be a state post like president, speaker, or prime minister. This is mere window-dressing.
Putin's real power will stem from Unified Russia and its sprawling system of nomenklatura that encompasses not just the federal parliament and government, but also regional legislatures, local governments, and the commercial elite. The road to success in business, politics or academia in Russia today runs through the party's Byzantine labyrinth.
This is how pre-perestroika Soviet leaders ruled from Stalin to Chernenko. And it is how we can expect Putin to rule as well.
It is probably just a matter of time before the party's general-secretary formally moves his office to the Kremlin.
-- Brian Whitmore