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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Putin 2012? Should There Be Any Doubt?

The media is abuzz with Vladimir Putin’s new “Putin2012” web address. This, along with other hints that he has been dropping, reveal that he intends to return to the presidency in 2012. Another hint is that the state-controlled media has begun a campaign of innuendo against Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, one of Putin’s few possible rivals in an election campaign.

We really do not need such hints and maneuvers to know that Putin will seek to return to the presidency in 2012. The simple reason is that he cannot afford not to. There has been one succession since Russian independence: the handover of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin as the last century ended. It now appears that the second succession was no succession at all. Dmitry Medvedev was put in as a place holder until Putin can constitutionally return to the presidency. Notable about Medvedev is that he does not have KGB ties in a state run by former KGB officers. As such, he lacks the power to go against Putin in the 2012 presidential election.

Putin must remain in power because this is the only way he can protect himself from future unpleasantness. The deal that the Yeltsin family and Yeltsin-favored oligarchs struck with Putin and the KGB was that they would not prosecute Yeltsin or his family and that the oligarchs could keep their business empires. Putin kept the first part of the deal, but he removed all uncooperative oligarchs – either to jail or to posh exile in London.

Putin must now ask himself whether he can strike a credible deal with an incoming regime for himself that will insure him the same two things – freedom from prosecution and keeping the enormous wealth he has secretly accumulated in the course of his presidency. The answer is no. Putin could not be sure that a new regime might find it in its interest to go after him at some point. Perhaps, the new leaders will need a scapegoat to explain why things are not going well. He understands it will not matter whether the new leaders are his “best friends” or not. As Stalin used to say: “Friendship is friendship but business is business.”

Putin is chained to the office by the same lack of rule of law that makes other types of contract enforcement impossible. In an authoritarian/totalitarian state, whoever is in power is the law, and is free to change the law at any time. There would therefore be no mechanism for Putin to enforce a contract with a new regime.


  1. "keeping the enormous wealth he has secretly accumulated in the course of his presidency."

    Considering that corruption, unfortunately, is an intractable part of life in Russia, I would not be surprised if indeed Putin has accumulated enourmous wealth during his presidency. But is there any clear and convincing evidence of this or is it simply an assumption? My question is on the "enourmous wealth" part.

    Often powerful people, even the unsavory ones, do not feel the need to accumulate enourmous wealth. With power they have access and influence. They don't need money to buy influence.

  2. I would like to note, that people in Russia here have different reaction on Putin plans. Some of them believe, that it should be better that Medvedev will run for a second turn or an opposition candidate should win. But, most of the people like the idea of the Putin return. They ve started to live better during his presidency. People are afraid of changes, because they know Russian history. Changes did not bring anything good to Russia and it's people so far :-(

  3. The exit of Pinochet was a good example. Even with a rule of law there were a problems with contract enforcement - before his death he was indicted in Chile although despite the constitutional norms that prohibit such actions.

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