Where there’s smoke in Moscow, there must be a conflagration of speculation: various media outlets were predicting on November 6 that Russia’s political supremo, Vladimir Putin, will officially reclaim the presidency as early as 2009.
One report, printed in the Moscow newspaper Vedomosti and citing an unidentified source close to the Kremlin, hinted that incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev was merely keeping the seat warm for Putin. Medvedev, the report suggested, might even resign next year, opening the way for Putin’s “re-election.” The flurry of media speculation followed Medvedev’s announcement on November 5 that he would seek to lengthen the presidential term from four to six years.
Putin aides have denied the media reports about Putin’s imminent return to the presidency.
Whatever the case, it is plainly evident that Putin is intent on remaining Russia’s paramount leader. He continues to overshadow Medvedev in the public eye, especially on television evening news broadcasts. Political analysts, both in Moscow and abroad, will be paying close attention to a major policy address that Putin is scheduled to deliver on November 20, at the congress of the United Russia Party, for hints about his personal political intentions. Later this year, Putin aides announced, the prime minister will continue a tradition that he launched when he was president; conducting an annual telebridge, a televised event lasting several hours during which he takes questions from ordinary citizens. Telebridges in previous years have proven a ratings bonanza for Putin. But now that he is prime minister, not president, it is somewhat awkward for him to continue the tradition, especially since Medvedev will not be conducting a similar nationally televised question-and-answer session.
Russia’s beleaguered political opposition has assailed the Medvedev plan to alter the constitution. One opposition party — the United Civil Front, which is headed by former chess champion Gari Kasparov — accused the Putin/Medvedev team of being more concerned about their personal concerns than the fate of Russia, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis.
“What is behind president Dmitry Medvedev’s suggestion to amend the current Constitution is not only the realization of a criminal intent to usurp power in Russia, but also an attempt to distract the public’s attention from the social and economic crisis developing in Russia,” the statement said.
“The scenario under which ahead-of-schedule presidential and Duma elections are announced right after the amendments to the Constitution are passed looks the most probable,” the statement added. “It is unlikely that anyone in Russia doubts who will run for the top state office. This would solve the problem for authorities about the illegitimacy of Putin’s third term.”