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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Moscow Diary: President Putin Speaking…

By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

Even as the latest love-affair controversy, reported by the media linking him with a gymnast Alina Kabayeva, Russian president Vladimir Putin is busy streamlining the future course he has to pursue while in the White House, the office of new Russian Prime-Minster on the other-side of the Kremlin across the Moscow (Moskva) river. Dmitry Peskov, Putin's chief spokesman who speaks four languages and has been Putin's voice to the world media since 2000, has been named spokesman for the prime minister and a deputy government chief of staff on 26 April. In activity after the close of business in Moscow, Putin signed into effect orders freeing his press secretary, Peskov, and other senior aides from their duties in the presidential administration. Gymnast Alina KabayevaGymnast Alina Kabayeva

Also switched were speechwriter Dmitry Kalimulin and chief of protocol Anton Vaino, who will serve as the government's head of protocol and a deputy chief of staff, the statement said. Kalimulin will be chief speechwriter for the prime minister. In other words, one gets the impression that the Russian White House would be the most powerful building in Moscow in the near future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man hand-picked by the first elected president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, steered Russia for more then 8 years towards a strong economic power with greater image and made Russians, after lying low on account of loss of Russian prestige, feel proud of themselves, leaves the Kremlin after two terms on May 7. Putin was expected to continue as president either by amending constitution or extending his term by a couple of years more, but he has now confirmed would become prime minister under Medvedev. The 55-year-old ex-KGB officer's announcement, which was carried live on state-run television, signaled a reordering of Russia's political mix just before Medvedev takes over.

Under the Putin administration, Russia's economy, thanks to rise in prices inoil and arms, saw increases in GDP (2000: 10%, 2001: 5.7%, 2002: 4.9%, 2003: 7.3%, 2004: 7.1%, 2005: 6.5%, 2006: 6.7%, 2007: 8.1%), industrial and agricultural production, construction, real incomes, the volume of consumer credit (between 2000–2006 increased 45 times), and other economic measures. The number of people living below the poverty line decreased from 29% in 2000 to 15.8% in 2007.A number of large-scale reforms in retirement (2002), banking (2001–2004), tax (2000–2003), the monetization of benefits (2005) and others has taken place. Currently Russian economy has registered a jump in GDP.Russian President Vladimir Putin turned a reporter's question about his marriage into a discourse on female beauty, saying that "I like all Russian women." Russian President Vladimir Putin turned a reporter's question about his marriage into a discourse on female beauty, saying that "I like all Russian women."

The Russian Constitution imposes consecutive term limits that prevent Putin from running for re-election again in 2008, although he would be allowed to run for President in the following presidential election, scheduled for 2012. It is speculated that Putin would come back as president in due course and if not immediately at least after 4yeArs when Medvedev completes his first term. Medvedev's four-year term expires in 2012. If Putin's party does amend the Constitution, extending presidential tenure to five or seven years, as many expect, Putin might yet have his triumphant Kremlin comeback. The question is whether Medvedev's entourage might entice their man to move beyond the playground sandbox to which Putin has relegated the presidency. In the unlikely event Medvedev elects to challenge his mentor, it will quickly become clear which end of the power spectrum is dominant.

Putin’s New Role

On April 16 Vladimir Putin graciously accepted his nomination as chairman of the United Russia (UR) party that dominates Russia's legislature, a stepping-stone to his expected confirmation as Prime Minister on May 8. During his eight years in the Kremlin, Putin steadily centralized power, with United Russia his tool for ensuring loyalty of the parliament. Putin has made no secret of the fact that he envisages his new role as that of a head of government, nor do any observers of Russian politics doubt that Putin, rather than Medvedev, will be in charge.

Putin is expected also to join United Russia after he steps down as president. President Vladimir Putin's appointment as United Russia head sends conflicting signals about how Russia will be ruled after May 7. Being a party leader without being its member is unprecedented in most democratic political cultures. There have been speculations and doubts, not only in the West and other major countries, but even in Russia, about what Putin would after quitting Kremlin. Allegations are being hurled against him that he is trying to build a new version of the Soviet Communist Party.

Thus Putin would be both premier of Russia and the leader of the ruling United Russia party that would give him all necessary capacity to rule Russia from a different direction of political purpose and orientation, in a significant shift of the political landscape three weeks before he hands power to successor Dmitry Medvedev. The party last week voted changes to its charter that would allow Putin to become chairman without actually holding membership. Delegates also decided to split the leadership, with Putin taking the chairmanship and Gryzlov the more technical ruling council. Recruiting Putin appeared to be the logical next step for a party that has always been seen as a Kremlin creation tasked with turning the once combative parliament of the 1990s into a rubber stamp. Gryzlov said: "The eight presidential annual addresses delivered by Vladimir Putin are what define the 'Putin course' -- the course toward becoming a great power, a great Russia. And this is the program of our party".Putin praised his countrywomen in response to a reporter's question about a recent tabloid report that claimed he intends to marry Alina Kabayeva, a former Olympic gymnast less than half his age. "There is not a single word of truth" Putin praised his countrywomen in response to a reporter's question about a recent tabloid report that claimed he intends to marry Alina Kabayeva, a former Olympic gymnast less than half his age. "There is not a single word of truth"

The negative signal is the appearance that Putin's elevation to the United Russia chairmanship has been hastily pushed through with a single purpose -- to cement the institutional checks on President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and to ensure Putin's continued dominance in ruling the country. Putin's decision to chair United Russia was strongly lobbied for by those in his inner circle who are known to be on less-than-friendly terms with Medvedev. Having Putin lead the government and United Russia would make Medvedev, as one such insider suggested, "a less powerful president," implying a more ceremonial role for the young leader.

Positive side of the issue is it is equally possible that Putin wants to create two powerful political centers, each with separate responsibilities to balance each other. This would make Russia no longer the country where "everything depends on one man" -- something Putin himself publicly came out against last year, but he understood the rationale for that.

Becoming head of the party, which won a constitutional majority with 63 percent of the vote in December elections, will now hugely strengthen Putin's status as prime minister. A Deutsche Bank analysis for investors pointed to a Putin leadership of United Russia strengthening the future role of parliament. "At the same time, being the head of United Russia would further strengthen Putin's role in post-2008 Russia, with the post of the head of the government being complemented by greater sway over the legislature," the bank said in the note for investors.

Observers say that at minimum Putin, who has totally silenced the freedom fighting Chechens, albeit temporarily and controlled the entire nation with the help of security and governmental services, is now searching for ways to slow down his impending loss of authority to Medvedev. "Putin will not start dealing with the trifles of party business... but the position in United Russia will give him one more anchor to hold on to power," the Vedomosti business daily commented.

International Affairs

Putin affixed hisstamp on both domestic and foreign fronts. In foreign policy Putin used to keep more hard-line and pragmatic positions than his predecessor and his presidency has seen the increase of Russia's clout on the world stage. In 2001 and 2002, Putin criticized, but accepted, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, while signing a treaty reducing the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and establishing closer relations with the United States and NATO. He supported the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, but was critical of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and US plans of missile deployment in Eastern Europe. Following the success of his preferred successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in the 2008 presidential elections, Putin is expected to become Prime Minister. As of 2008, he remains the most popular politician in Russia, according to opinion polls, and maintaining an approval rating of around 80%.

In international affairs, Putin has been publicly increasingly critical of the foreign policies of the US and other Western countries. In February 2007, at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, he criticised what he calls the United States' monopolistic dominance in global relations, and pointed out that the United States displayed an "almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations". He said the result of it is that "no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race."

He called for a "fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all". He proposed certain initiatives such as establishing international centres for the enrichment of uranium and prevention of deploying weapons in outer space. In his January 2007 interview Putin said Russia is in favour of a democratic multipolar world and of strengthening the system of international law.

The CIS, seen in Moscow as its traditional sphere of influence, became one of the foreign policy priorities under Putin, as the EU and NATO have grown to encompass much of Central Europe and, more recently, the Baltic states. In his annual address to the Federal Assembly on April 26, 2007, Putin announced plans to declare a moratorium on the observance of the CFE Treaty by Russia until all NATO members ratified it and started observing its provisions, as Russia had been doing on a unilateral basis. Putin argues that as new NATO members have not even signed the treaty so far, an imbalance in the presence of NATO and Russian armed forces in Europe creates a real threat and an unpredictable situation for Russia. NATO members said they would refuse to ratify the treaty until Russia complied with its 1999 commitments made in Istanbul whereby Russia should remove troops and military equipment from Moldova and Georgia.

Russia has suspended its participation in the CFE as of midnight Moscow time on December 11, 2007. NATO's primary concern arising from Russia's suspension is that Moscow could now accelerate its military presence in the Northern Caucasus. The months following Putin's Munich speech were marked by tension and a surge in rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic. So, Vladimir Putin said at the anniversary of the Victory Day, "these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world." This was interpreted by some Russian and Western commentators as comparing the U.S. to Nazi Germany.

Putin publicly opposed a US missile shield in Europe, and presented President George W. Bush with a counterproposal on June 7, 2007 of sharing the use of the Soviet-era radar system in Azerbaijan rather than building a new system in the Czech Republic. Putin expressed readiness to modernize the Gabala radar station, which has been in operation since 1986. Putin proposed it would not be necessary to place interceptor missiles in Poland then, but interceptors could be placed in NATO member Turkey or Iraq. Putin suggested also equal involvement of interested European countries in the project. Following the Peace Mission 2007 military exercises jointly conducted by the SCO member states, Putin announced on August 17, 2007 the resumption on a permanent basis of long-distance patrol flights of Russia's strategic bombers that were suspended in 1992.

Vladimir Putin strongly opposes secession of Kosovo from Serbia. He called any support for this act "immoral" and "illegal". He described Kosovo's declaration of independence a 'terrible precedent' that will come back to hit the West 'in the face'. The contours of the conflict are already emerging—in diplomatic stand-offs over Kosovo, Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia; in conflicts over gas and oil pipelines; in nasty diplomatic exchanges between Russia and Britain; and in a return to Russian military exercises of a kind not seen since the Cold War. Europeans are apprehensive, with good reason.

Love Affair

Russian President Vladimir Putin turned a reporter's question about his marriage into a discourse on female beauty, saying that "I like all Russian women." Putin praised his countrywomen in response to a reporter's question about a recent tabloid report that claimed he intends to marry Alina Kabayeva, a former Olympic gymnast less than half his age. "There is not a single word of truth" to the report, Putin said at a news conference in Sardinia with incoming Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Russian women are "the most talented and beautiful" in the world, he said. "If anyone can compete, it may be only Italian women," Putin added, in a nod to his Italian hosts. Kabayeva, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Games, is now a member of the lower house of Russia's parliament from the pro-Kremlin party. The Moscow tabloid, Moskovsky Korrespondent, reported this month that Putin, 55, had divorced his wife, Lyudmila, two months ago and intended to marry Alina Kabayeva, 24, a former champion rhythmic gymnast who is now a Russian lawmaker. The tabloid report, which was published April 12, has been largely ignored in the Russian press. But it's received wide play in many European newspapers. Putin is not impressed with the media hype. But, one does not know why the issue was racked up at this transit phase of his presidency.

An Observation

Putin is credited with "restoring order" in Russia after a decade of Yeltsin's rule. Oil and gas and weapons and technology brings maximum amount of foreign reserves to Moscow and made Ruussia ressurgent since the 1998 financial crisis. Putin’s domestic anf foreign polcies ressured Russia’s due place in world economy and politics. On his watch the economy bounced back and average wages grew substantially. Some large-scale reforms such as the monetization of benefits were implemented in Mikhail Kasyanov's tenure as Putin's first prime-minister. Putin always felt the premiers under him don’t bring enough substance to the post. Heence he would like showcase the active role Russian premiers should play. Perhaps, a bi-polar power sharing cold be expected henceforth.

Soviet practice of making head of the government subservient to Head of Government was done away following the emergence of Russian Federation in 1992. It was the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who finally changed the power structure, putting the power in the hands of the presidency at whose pleasure the Prime Minister served. Now Putin is aiming at making Russia a bi-focal power hard-ware.

The development was likely to add to questions raised in Moscow and foreign capitals over who will really be in charge from next month -- the untested Medvedev or a powerful ex-president, turned prime minister and parliament leader Putin. "Analysts and those in the media are still trying to figure out whose portrait will end up hanging in government offices across the country," commentator Konstantin Sonin wrote in Moscow Times daily.

Western analysts, as usual comment that Putin would make his position more powerful than the presidency. His choice of a less-known deputy-premier as his successor gives credence to that kind of thinking also. It’s, however, about time for Putin to sort out the conflicting signals he is sending during this transition. The uncertainty over how Russia will be ruled cannot last much longer. Putin's statement that he would not be going to the G8 summit in Japan is an overdue step in the right direction, though.

Vladimir Putin has made no secret of the fact that he envisages his new role as that of a powerful head of government, nor do any observers of Russian politics doubt that Putin, rather than Medvedev, will be in charge. On international affairs, Putin’s views would over-weigh those of Medvedev, who would, by all means, let his “boss’ speak for Russia.

Many call President Putin today’s living Stalin and cry loud over HR evasions in Russia, but Putin has repeatedly asked the West to look at their own mirrors before accusing Russia of violations of HRs. Leaving aside accusations and Russian responses, Russia should now try to stabilize itself in HRs front as well. After all Russia has to be a model state for most part of the world now and always.

- Asian Tribune -

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