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Walker's World: Will Putin step down

Time to leave or not?
by Martin Walker
Paris (UPI) Aug 22, 2007
The big question in Russian politics is not only who will replace President Vladimir Putin when he is required by the constitution to step down after serving two consecutive terms, but whether Putin himself leaves politics.

The semi-forced resignation of former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov from the job of secretary of the national Security Council, and his replacement by a temporary stand-in, has led Russian political observers and many Western Kremlin-watchers to suspect that this powerful berth is being prepared for Putin.

Few in Moscow believe Putin is ready to retire, and many see him returning to the presidency in 2012. There is speculation that in the interim, he could take over the Gazprom energy giant, or some other body that would maintain his high profile and keep him close to the centers of Russian power.

The Security Council would fit the bill, as the springboard from which he rose to power under former President Boris Yeltsin. The weekly Moskovskii Novosti has suggested Putin will need "a reliable structure that will not betray him" while out of nominal power. Its well-informed editor in chief, Vitaly Tretyakov, predicts that "after he has left the post of president (but not the Kremlin, which is critically important) Putin himself will become secretary of a Security Council with greatly expanded powers."

Tretyakov also claims the Council is to be "transformed into a security organ monitoring the activity of the Kremlin, the government, and the special services in order to ensure the conditions for Putin's activity as head of state oil and gas corporation and for his subsequent return to the post of president."

The daily paper Gazeta seems to agree, also suggesting Putin is going to take over the Council and noting that its powers are "strengthened during periods of transition. ... We are now preparing for the 2007-2008 transition, and the Security Council is reverting to the same role as a parallel supervisory government whose duty is to guarantee implementation of the national leader's political course."

This kind of speculation took off in Washington earlier this summer when Kremlin adviser Igor Shuvalov suggested that the conventional wisdom in the West was all wrong; the succession to Putin was not necessarily going to be a struggle between the two deputy prime ministers, former KGB officer and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Gazprom Chairman Dmitri Medvedev.

On the face of it, that would represent a power struggle between Ivanov as champion of the traditional powers of the security establishment, the old KGB and the military, and Medvedev as champion of the new civilian and economic power of Russia's vast energy empire. Gazprom is now a $220 billion giant, poised to become even bigger in its plans to take over SUEK, which has 40 percent of the huge coal industry.

But such simple distinctions between civilian and security establishments are not easily drawn in Russia. Gazprom's growth has been deliberately engineered by Putin as part of the expansion of state-owned enterprises. A survey by Russia's Alfa Bank earlier this year found that the proportion of Russia's economy owned by state enterprises has risen from 20 percent in 2003 to 35 percent this year. For Putin, the overall power and authority of the central state has been the priority, not the shares allocated to military and civilian sectors. And Ivanov and Medvedev both owe their power to Putin's patronage.

"People talk about these two candidates, possible candidates," Shuvalov said when he rocked a Washington audience earlier this summer by saying that Putin's succession was wide open. "But you know my president could create another surprise and, you know, maybe even later during this year you will know about another possible figure."

Putin is so popular, and the Kremlin itself so powerful, that any candidate who gets Putin's support starts off with a massive advantage in next year's presidential elections. And Putin will be sure that the job goes to a trusted friend and supporter. So the prospect of Russia's first woman leader since the Empress Catherine the Great is now very real, in the person of Valentina Matvienko, the governor of Putin's home town of St. Petersburg.

Loyal to Putin and acceptable to the various Kremlin "clans" who mainly hail from St. Petersburg, Matvienko is "an ideal figure," suggests Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center. "We know that the current elite are from St. Petersburg, they all had some kind of interests there. Valentina Matvienko was the kind of politician who was able to balance their interests on their home turf."

Other possible successors to Putin include Vladimir Yakunin, head of the state-run Russian Railways, the country's second-largest company after Gazprom, and a friend of Putin. Their dachas, or country houses, are next door to one another. Sergei Naryshkin, promoted by Putin this year to be deputy prime minister responsible for foreign economic relations, is another possibility, along with Sergei Chemezov, head of the Russian arms export company Rosoboroneksport, and Putin's personal envoy to the North Caucasus, Dmitry Kozak.

Nobody really knows what is in Putin's mind, but he seems intent on securing the position of the St. Petersburg and ex-KGB elites who rose to power with him. Known as the "siloviki" -- the powerful ones -- they include the national drug czar, Viktor Cherkesov, Putin's closest adviser, Viktor Ivanov, the deputy head of presidential staff, Igor Sechin, and intelligence chief Sergey Lebedev.

Along with former head of the presidential staff Aleksandr Voloshin and trusted oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, these are people who are likely to remain in power when Putin nominally steps down, and may even be loyal enough to secure the Kremlin for Putin's eventual return. For the moment, all the options remain in Putin's hands, as all-powerful president with a massive 78 percent approval rating and the reputation of a leader who restored Russian pride and self-respect, and rebuilt the economy on the back of surging energy prices.

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Outside View: Ad men for U.S. defense
Washington (UPI) Aug 20, 2007
The products we buy -- coffee, clothing, cars, computers and just about everything else -- all have a brand identity, a reputation they're known by. Organizations have brand identities as well -- some good, some bad. (Todd Helmus is an associate behavioral scientist, Russell Glenn is a senior analyst and Christopher Paul is a social scientist with the Rand Corp., a non-profit research organization. This article is based on their new Rand study, "Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation.") (United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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