“I think that for those engaged in politics, like myself, the most important thing is not an office or a job; the most important thing is people’s trust.”
Vladimir V. Putin
Russia is blessed country. It has the presidential election in less than two months, and yet its citizens have peacefully surrendered to the lull of the New Year and Orthodox Christmas celebrations. The presidential candidates are nowhere seen or heard. Busy with drafting election programs? If so, no one’s election program will be more eagerly anticipated than the one presented by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
As a matter of fact, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Izvestia daily that it was exactly what the prime minister has been doing during the vacation: hand-writing his program, to be unveiled “before February 12.” According to a member of Putin’s campaign staff, in addition to mandatory sections on economic, social and foreign policy issues, Putin’s program will touch upon a number of hot topics, such as communal and utility sector, alcohol and drug abuse, crime, and corruption.
It’s still unknown whether Putin will take part in the pre-election debates with other candidates. When asked about that by the journalists on Dec. 28, Putin said that he wasn’t “afraid” of the debates, but had his doubts about the very need to debate with his opponents who, in Putin’s words, aren’t “burdened with any concrete work, always demand impossible and then usually don’t deliver.”
Given Putin’s lack of experience in open public discussions, his reluctance to meet face-to-face with such experienced debaters as Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Grigory Yavlinsky (should the latter be registered for the election) is quite understandable. Obviously, defending his own record would be relatively easy for Putin: he has a lot to show for it. However, it could be very uncomfortable for him to answer a simple, but unavoidable question: why the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, wasn’t allowed to run for re-election?
Putin has already attempted to address this question. During an Oct. 17 interview with three major Russian TV channels, he said:
“When a country finds itself in difficult conditions, tries to recover from crisis, tries to get back on its feet, stability, including political stability, becomes very important…We need a period of stable development.”
Putin’s emphasis on “stability” isn’t surprising; surprising are the gloomy terms he used to describe the situation in the country. The interpretation of his words would be that Medvedev wasn’t capable of ensuring Russia’s “stable development” at the time the country was trying to recover after the crisis.
Was Medvedev not the Russian president during the crisis? Did he fail, in Putin’s opinion?
Interestingly enough, six weeks later, when officially accepting the presidential nomination at the United Russia party congress, Putin sounded more positive about Russia’s “conditions:”
“We’ve gone through very important process of Russia’s recovery; we’ve created a basis for the stable and steady development of the country. Our goal now – is to use this basis to build a strong, prosperous and successful Russia, Russia of the XXI century.”
Is Medvedev unfit for the task of building “a strong, prosperous and successful Russia” too?
During his October TV interview, Putin was also asked whether he was going to continue reforms initiated by Medvedev. Putin’s response was somewhat ambivalent:
“On strategic issues of the country’s development, we have the same opinion. However, we’re not the same people, and at certain stage, Medvedev decided to liberalize some areas of our life. [If elected president], I’m not going to make any abrupt changes to what was already done by Medvedev. Let’s see how this is going to work.”
“We have to find the optimal political structures and mechanisms of formation of power structures. Let’s see how the tools suggested by the president will function…And, if needed, we will be correcting them.”
However reluctantly, Putin seems to have accepted two of the three latest initiatives articulated by Medvedev in his last address to the Federal Assembly: the direct election of regional governors and the simplified rules for registration of political parties. At the same time, Putin was visibly irritated with Medvedev’s idea of transferring of a number of federal responsibilities to the regional authorities.
Putin’s election program will hopefully shed light on which initiatives of his predecessor will be allowed “to work” and which will be “corrected.”