A leading member of United Russia says its time to bring back the Politburo.
Yevgeny Fyodorov, the head of the State Duma's Committee for Economic Policy, says Russia's constitution should be changed to establish a "political bureau of the nation" -- a new governing body that would stand above the president and take responsibility for the country's strategic direction.
Fyodorov explained his reasoning in a recent interview with Gazeta.ru:
Fyodorov says the idea has long been discussed in political circles, but had not yet been officially proposed at any official level. He said he plans to formally introduce his idea "after the election cycle, following State Duma and presidential elections, in the second half of next year."
The proposal has been met with an icy reception -- at least publicly -- by the United Russia leadership.
"Any specific proposal to establish any governing body that is above the head of state should be viewed not as a serious idea but as ravings of a madman,” said Aleksei Chesnakov, head of the Presidium of United Russia's Public Council.
"The authors of such a proposal should be tested for professional and psychological competence."
Likewise, Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building said "changes to the constitution are currently not welcome." And Aleksandr Moskalets, another Duma deputy from United Russia, said he was surprised by Fyodorov's statement.
"Frankly, I can't imagine how he could say this," he said. "I know Yevgeny as a balanced and careful person. Such a proposal is not quite his style."
So what's going on here? Was Fyodorov just running his mouth? I don't think so. One would expect such a high-ranking member of the ruling party
Was he talking out of school? Maybe. It is possible that the idea is indeed being considered, but wasn't meant to be made public just yet.
Or was this a carefully orchestrated trial balloon floated by one faction of the elite? I think this is the most likely option.
With all the certainty in the air about what will happen after 2012, various factions and clans are going to be testing the waters and pushing their agendas -- just like the last time a transition at the top was looming.
Remember how Putin was sure to change the constitution and run for a third term in 208? And how about how Sergei Ivanov was a sure bet to follow Putin into the Kremlin? Remember Viktor Zubkov's brief stint as prime minister and potential president-in-waiting?
But the thing about Fyodorov's proposal that grabbed my attention most was how well it fits with where I think things are going. As I have blogged here, I think Plan A at this point is for Medvedev to remain president after 2012, but for Putin to remain in charge.
And for that to happen, Putin needs some kind of formal post that coincides with his "national leader" status. I have suggested in the past that this might be as a sort of General Secretary of United Russia. But head of a new "Political Bureau of the Nation" would also fit the bill nicely.
It would allow Medvedev to be the public face of a tightly controlled modernization campaign under Putin's -- and the Politburo's -- watchful eye. It would solve Russia's perennial succession crises. And keeping the tandem intact keeps a leadership in power that appeals to both the siloviki and civiliki factions of the elite.
Fyodorov was coy when asked who might lead a newly minted Politburo.
"This is not about specific people, but about the country's development," he said. "It could be the president or it could be another person. This is an issue we would need to work out later. We still don't know how the presidential election will turn out."
This is probably just one of the many trial balloons that we can expect the elite to float as 2012 approaches. Most will go nowhere. But they all merit watching.
-- Brian Whitmore