Why do Western pundits and media have such a difficulty trusting President Putin’s words?
So far, he hasn’t broken any promises. He promised to step down after the second term in office — and he will. He promised to endorse a successor after the Duma elections — and he did. Still, hordes of so-called Russia experts went on record accusing Putin in plotting to stay in the Kremlin indefinitely.
In October, Putin perplexed the putinologists by promising to become prime minister should the United Russia party win the December 2 elections and should a "decent, competent, modern person" be elected president in March. Putin’s words were met with the utmost mistrust: no one could believe that he would accept a position with less authority than the presidency.
Putin has kept his promise again: addressing the congress of the United Russia party on Monday, he accepted an offer from Dmitry Medvedev — United Russia’s presidential candidate — to become prime minister in the prospective Medvedev administration. He then pointedly promised not to change "the distribution of powers between the presidency and government."
Guess what? Putin’s decision was immediately declared a ploy "to keep a grip on power" after he leaves the Kremlin.
Western mistrust in Putin is so illogical that any attempts to rationally explain it are futile. But what about claims that Putin’s only objective is "to stay in power"? What is wrong with that? Why is Putin’s alleged desire "to stay in power" being considered the first deadly sin or, worse, a crime?
Putin is only 55 and is tremendously popular, with the majority of Russians willing for him to stay in the government in some role. Why should he scorn the people’s sentiments and leave the political scene? To please the West?
Many people in the United States view Putin through the prism of American political tradition, with outgoing presidents expected to fade away from politics and to spend the rest of their lives growing peanuts or promoting presidential bids of their wives.
But this is an American tradition. The rest of the world might be different.
Remember Urho Kekkoken, the late president of Finland, the country whose democratic credentials are unquestionable? Putin’s "grip on power" pales with what Kekkonen had achieved: after having served as prime minister for 7 years, he was elected president and had stayed in this position for 26 consecutive years (1956-1981).
Or take the United Kingdom. Tony Blair has "stayed in power" for 10 years and then relinquished his position to a hand-picked unelected successor.
The Medvedev-Putin combination is not without potential conflicts or even risks. But this is the business of Russian people to establish Russian political traditions.
Back to the issue of trust. Am I alone in doubting the altruism of former President Bill Clinton when he claims that his wife Hillary is the best choice for America?