from the co-author of
HEAT AND LIGHT:
ADVICE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF JOURNALISTS
I posted this on Huffington Post after Vladimir Putin announced that he would seek a new term as Russian president:
Wow. What a surprise….not!
The news that Vladimir Putin will seek a new term as Russian president is about as surprising as Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi announcing that she’s going for another round of spray tanning.
Russia’s current President, Dmitri Medvedev, made the long-awaited announcement on Saturday, ending months of nervous speculation about how the ruling tandem would decide to rule Russia.
Ever since Putin gave up his office in 2008 because he had served the maximum two terms allowed by the Russian constitution, Russians have been saying that he’d be back. And as usual, Russian folk wisdom has turned out to be right.
Russia’s presidential rules are different than ours, don’t forget. In America, a president gets two terms, period. In Russia, you can serve two terms and then run again after taking a break.
There was simply no way that Putin would pass on being president in 2014, when the Winter Olympics will be held in the southern Russian city of Sochi. And the soccer World Cup will be played in Russia in 2018, which is another must-host event for Putin.
Though Putin and Medvedev have been holding off on an announcement for months, anyone watching Russian television closely this summer could have seen it coming. The amount of airtime for Putin has been slowly rising, as government spinmakers started to prepare the people for the big announcement.
It’s actually good that the succession plan has been announced now, and not after the country’s parliamentary elections in December, as had been the plan. The country’s governmental structures have slowed down considerably in the past few months, because bureaucrats weren’t sure if they would be keeping their jobs or not. Now, officialdom can go back to business as usual.
Russia’s governors have been particularly handcuffed as they’ve waited to see whether Putin or Medvedev would be the candidate for president. They’re the ones with primary responsibility for turning out the vote, and it’s been impossible for them to start without knowing to whom they’d need to give their patronage.
There were some people pulling for Medvedev to keep his job, including the White House. Vice President Biden made it fairly clear during a March 2011 visit to Moscow that the Obama administration would prefer that Medvedev stick around.
They seemed to be encouraged by comments Medvedev has made during his four years as president about the importance of the Rule of Law, even if he hasn’t made it happen.
But Medvedev was always the junior partner. And this just proves it.
The reaction to the news has been mixed. Putin’s still very popular with older and rural Russians, and plenty of them will be happy to vote for him.
But not so for many younger Russians, who see this as a return to the Soviet tradition of leaders for life. Just hours after the announcement, a cartoon starting circulating on Facebook showing what looks like a weary 75 year-old Putin, wearing Leonid Brezhnev’s favorite outfit: a military uniform with lots and lots of medals. Another cartoon shows Medvedev flashing a victory sign…from a little chest pocket on Putin’s jacket.
After Medvedev announced that Putin would run for president, Putin responded by saying he wants Medvedev to be his prime minister. And that’s a tandem that could last for many years to come, now that the Russians changed their constitution to extend the Russian president’s term to six years from four.
That means that when Putin gets elected in March (notice, I didn’t say “if”), his first term will go to 2018 and second term to 2024. If Putin make it through two more terms, he would be 71. At that point, he could either retire or potentially become Prime Minister again—though I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have had enough of running Russia by then.
An important thing to note about the coming changes is that everything that’s happening is completely legal. Putin and Medvedev are playing by the rules of Russian democracy…they’re just rules they wrote themselves.
And that means there’s not a whole lot that America can do about this, except to prepare to meet with President Putin at summit meetings for a long, long time.