A departure from the last Kremlin script
President Vladimir Putin set in motion Wednesday what looks like a
tightly scripted plan that will culminate with the transfer of power in
March. In effect, Putin officially kicked off the presidential campaign
- the Kremlin's version of one, anyway. Those who thought Putin would
borrow a page from his own ascension to power were caught off guard. And
for good reason: The similarities between what is happening now and what
happened in 1999 are striking.
President Boris Yeltsin elevated Putin, then the relatively unknown
director of the Federal Security Service, to the position of prime
minister in August 1999, roughly half a year before the presidential
election. Putin tapped Viktor Zubkov, an obscure bureaucrat who oversees
a financial crimes agency, to replace Mikhail Fradkov as prime minister
on Wednesday, also half a year before the presidential election. Both
promotions surprised politicians and business leaders.
But there was a key difference. In the same breath that Yeltsin
announced his decision, he declared that Putin would succeed him as
president. Then, just to make sure everything went according to plan,
Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve to make Putin acting president.
The flouting of basic democratic principles couldn't have been more
blatant. Few people complained, however; Putin's popularity was sky
high, thanks to the war in Chechnya and the copious coverage he received
on television.On Wednesday, Putin made no mention of whether Zubkov
might be in line for the presidency. He didn't even announce his
candidacy. Putin left it to State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov to break
Putin could still name Zubkov as his preferred successor, and Zubkov
would probably be up to the task. He appears to be as capable an
administrator as Fradkov, but with the added experience of fighting
corruption. There is no single issue that has worried investors more in
recent years than a surge in corruption at all levels of the government.
Zubkov's efforts to stem money laundering as the head of the Federal
Financial Monitoring Service are impressive; among other things, he got
Russia off an international blacklist.
It remains to be seen whether Zubkov, whose candidacy is expected to
be confirmed by the State Duma on Friday, will be given sufficient
authority to fight corruption - or a long enough tenure to kick-start
But that is beside the point in a presidential election season.
Putin's appointment in 1999 proved part of an orchestrated plan to
ensure a smooth handover of power to the Yeltsin administration's
preferred successor. Zubkov's appointment can mean nothing less.
Short of Putin resigning on New Year's Eve, however, the Kremlin's
presidential campaign this time is promising to be more stable and
perhaps a bit more democratic. But only, of course, if fair and equal
television coverage is given to all contenders, declared and undeclared
(Courtesy: The Moscow Times.com)