In my last post, I blogged what I thought was an excellent analysis of the current political dynamic by Lauren Goodrich at Stratfor.com. Goodrich argued that Russia was moving toward a political system characterized by "managed pluralism underneath not a president or premier, but under a person more like the leader of the nation, not just the leader of the state." And that leader is, of course, Vladimir Putin.
The post also quoted Igor Yurgens, chairman of the Kremlin-connected Institute of Modern Development, as saying that he expects Medvedev to remain president, but that Putin would remain Russia's most powerful figure as "father of the nation."
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I agree with Goodrich and Yurgens that this is where Russia is heading.
But if that is the case -- and this is all speculation and tea leave reading at this point -- will Putin occupy an official state post? And if so, which one?
In the past, I have blogged that it doesn't really matter. Putin has the loyalty of -- and de facto control over -- the siloviki, and that should be enough for him to maintain decisive influence and act as "national leader."
But is that really the case? In recent weeks, I have begun giving the assumption a re-think.
It is true that informal authority is very important in Russia and Putin has plenty of it. But anybody who has spent any time in Russia and observed its politics at close range also knows that it is an extremely bureaucratic country where one's position in the state apparatus is directly proportional to one's power and influence.
Would Putin be able to hang onto that influence over the long haul without an official post? Perhaps, but it would be risky for him.
So what will Putin do?
He, of course, could remain prime minister, keeping the tandem together in its current form. But press reports and pundit buzz suggests he doesn't really like that job. A National Leader, after all isn't someone who gets bogged down getting his hands -- and image -- dirty with the details of day-to-day governance. Moreover, I expect that after the elections a more "liberal" or "technocratic" figure will become premier. Right Cause leader Mikhail Prokhorov is one candidate, should his party do well in the December elections to the State Duma. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin is another name that has been floated.
In the past I have suggested that Putin could rule as General Secretary of United Russia, taking a page out of the old Soviet playbook. He could also become Speaker of a United Russia dominated State Duma. But given United Russia's declining popularity, and the Duma's weakness to influence policy in a meaningful way, these could prove flimsy foundations on which to base his long-term authority.
The role that I think would best preserve Putin's control over the system was established in a little-noticed presidential decree that Medvedev signed back in May.
And here, I'll turn the floor over to defense and security analyst Aleksandr Golts, writing in "Yezhednevny zhurnal" (you can read the English version here):
Medvedev’s decree endows the post with an importance almost rivaling the authority of the ruling tandem of him and Putin. Judge for yourself. From now on, the Security Council secretary will be responsible for 'the control of Russia’s armed forces, other forces, military formations and bodies,' according to Medvedev’s decree. That is to say the secretary will control not only the armed forces, but also law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Moreover, Medvedev’s decree stipulates that the Security Council secretary will 'participate in formulating and implementing foreign policy.' The secretary will also 'make proposals to the Security Council for coordinating the work of federal and regional executive bodies in national emergencies.' In effect, the country’s siloviki, who previously answered only to the president, now have their own 'tsar'...
In addition, the Security Council itself is now empowered to monitor budgetary spending for defense, national security and law enforcement — fully one-fourth of the national budget. What’s more, the Security Council is charged with controlling the government, in part by analyzing a consolidated annual report on its main activities and results. In short, the Security Council will now run the government.
Sounds like a job description for the National Leader.
-- Brian Whitmore
NOTE TO READERS: The Power Vertical has just started a Facebook page that I hope will beocme a forum for regular readers of the blog and for Russia watchers in general.