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PUTIN LEVELS THE PLAYING FIELD FOR 2008
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
16/02/07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Vavra)


President Putin’s decision to reshuffle the government has given rise to
quite a few rumors, especially among those who are trying to predict the
outcome of the presidential race.


Sergei Ivanov’s new post has made him equal in status to another
presidential hopeful, Dmitry Medvedev.
It was probably a timely decision, as the recent growth of Medvedev’s
popularity rating has made the behind-the-scenes struggle in the top
echelons too predictable. It was even rumored that Medvedev used the
consulting services of Alexander Voloshin, the former chief of the Kremlin
staff and the Russian regime’s “gray eminence.”
As for ordinary Russians, Medvedev’s lead had taken the intrigue out of the
battle for the presidency.
By leveling off the candidates’ status, Putin has solved quite a few,
broader problems. Ivanov held an exceptionally important post, but with a
limited number of responsibilities (the defense ministry). He has now been
charged with an even more important function.
His appointment was made public a week after the president’s harsh
statement delivered at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, where
he was joined by Ivanov. Putin said at the conference that he did not like
the modern world order and the place Russia was assigned in it.
At the same time, Ivanov’s new appointment is directly connected with the
president’s meeting with members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and
Entrepreneurs. Russia’s aspirations for the role of a world leader will not
be realized on their own. To be able to stop begging and to start elbowing
its way onto the world markets, the country needs a powerful modern
economy.
A raw-materials superpower does not make sense, and neither do huge gold
and currency reserves in a country where ordinary people have little or no
access to the benefits of modern civilization.
However, Russia has been living with these drawbacks for years, and now the
president has declared the need to diversify the economy and to propel it
onto the path of development through innovation. Russia’s huge scientific,
technological, cultural and educational potential should be put to use, at
long last, and the driver on this path could be the defense industry, which
has always been a technological leader and which the new first deputy prime
minister knows very well.
By all appearances, Ivanov has been assigned to the post in order to spur
Russia along the path of innovation.
So, which of the candidates is now in a better position for the
presidential race? Both, I would say, as they have been set equally
important, although different, goals.
Russia has become a country of oases spread unequally, from Kamchatka in
the Far East to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Between them are large areas
of burnt-out land where nothing has grown for years.
Medvedev is working hard to reduce the number of dead areas and increase
the number of oases of life, in a bid to sew the thin patches of prosperity
into a viable economic and cultural fabric. He is doing this by introducing
the Internet in some areas, bringing medical equipment and agricultural
loans to others, and encouraging the construction of cheap housing
elsewhere.
However, attaining these goals is not enough to claim global leadership.
Industrialized countries are baffled by Russian problems because they have
no such problems.
Ivanov’s task is to promote innovation and encourage the people, whose
prosperity is growing, to use their forgotten skills to make the spurs
Ivanov needs for attaining his goal. Unfortunately, many talented Russian
scientists have emigrated, engineers have gone into business, and skilled
workers have become disillusioned.
In short, Ivanov’s new task is highly complicated and includes technology,
production and personnel.
At first glance, Medvedev’s position is better in terms of the presidential
race. He has the ability to regularly demonstrate results, such as higher
wages, the growing pace of housing construction, and increased financing of
education and health care.
Ivanov cannot hope to show his achievements soon. However, I believe that
his position is better than that of Medvedev, because only high
technologies can propel Russia to a new, higher level of development.
And now a few words about the consolidation of power: I think the president
had this goal in mind when he appointed Ivanov first deputy prime
minister.
If the West works contrary to Russia’s interests, Russia should create a
maximally reliable structure of power to counter that trend, a highly
consolidated system where the successor will carry on with the policy of
his predecessor. This problem is growing increasingly important for
Vladimir Putin, who is worried which turn the country will take in 2008.
To be able to attain this goal, the power structure should work like a
well-oiled machine. The Russian authorities must not vacillate or give in
to doubts, despite the massive criticism of Russia now being voiced for all
kinds of alleged mistakes or sins. They must not permit Russia to stray
from its unique national path to democracy, for this could dangerously slow
down its progress.


Therefore, Putin’s speech in Munich has become a kind of proclamation of
the necessity (and inevitability) of creating the model of power described
above, a strong, independent, self-assured and consolidated power.
The appointment of politicians who share the president’s view of such a
model, and who are responsible for crucial sectors in the government, to
key posts should accelerate the strengthening and consolidation of power.
Putin’s main goal today is to outline a clear policy for the country and
ensure its implementation after 2008. In this sense, Sergei Ivanov will be
his reliable ally, which explains the president’s decision to expand his
powers.

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