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.