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Following up on yesterday's post, there is growing chatter in the media suggesting that Vladimir Putin is preparing to take the reins of United Russia in earnest with the goal of reforming the party and turning it into a more effective vehicle for his continued rule.

In an article in today's edition of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Aleksandra Samarina and Ivan Rodin write that efforts are under way to establish "a special structure within United Russia" that will be "controlled by Vladimir Putin himself" and will "run the ruling party." According to the authors, Putin hopes the new structure " will transform United Russia into a sophisticated political party, one that he will be able to rely on in 2011 and 2012 elections."

Not surprisingly, the article prominently cites Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Politics Foundation and a key barometer of Kremlin thinking, who has been pushing the idea of Putin using United Russia as his main vehicle to govern. Pavlovsky suggests that United Russia is run by political lightweights and is not living up to its potential as a ruling party:

The problem is that the party's leadership was formed in the days when it was a sort of political capsule within Putin's management system. From this standpoint, the national leadership was not [United Russia's] leadership at all. The party was like a group of trustees who unfortunately had a hard time interpreting [political] signals because the group itself was such a motley crew.

Pavlovsky adds that the party needs to "develop a new level of management" and sees two possible options:

There could be a party convention that replaces the current leadership. Or there could be a superstructure installed above the current leadership. This superstructure should be based on Putin's respect and legitimacy. The second option is less time-consuming but less optimal because it does not really solve the existing problems. In either case, Putin takes over everything and that will surely make United Russia stronger.

If this is indeed the plan, it dovetails neatly with another scheme that has been floating around for a year or so to create a virtual -- read fake -- multi-party system similar to the ones that existed in some Soviet satellites like Communist-era Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany.

Under such an arrangement, which would only require minor tweaks to the current party system, United Russia would rule and housebroken "opposition" parties like A Just Russia, the Liberal Democrats, and the Communists would be allowed seats in parliament.

Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov had been pushing such a plan, but ran into opposition from the United Russia leadership, most notably State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov.

If this is indeed what is cooking (a big if in this game of tea leaf reading), it would all fit together rather elegantly. Medvedev could remain president and make liberal noises here and there without changing anything that matters. A fake multi-party system would create a facade of pluralism, without challenging United Russia's dominance. And Putin would rule via the ruling party, lording over the country's vas bureaucracy (and security services) like Soviet General Secretaries of old.

-- Brian Whitmore

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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