Monday, 26 September 2011

The Putin-ator - Did you ever doubt 'he'd be back'?


It's been a while. In fact, it's fair to say that if this blog were a residence, the garden would be overgrown, there'd be countless bottles of milk by the front door and the social services would have dropped by to make sure someone hadn't passed away.
But I've returned to put some word down, nevertheless.
And in comparible Terminator sytle, incumbent Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin has confirmed that he has accepted a proposal to run for a return to the Kremlin, for a third time, in March 2012.
Did you ever doubt that 'he'd be back'?
Recent constitutional amendments mean that Putin would be eligible to serve back-to-back six-year Presidential terms and he is thus positioned to remain in power until 2024, by which point he would be 71.
Given the strongman’s hold on the political process in Russia, where he is polled as the country’s most popular politician, the result is uncertain only in lacking the required formalities.
Indeed, if you can find a bookmaker that will give you favourable odds on the Russian Federation waiting at lest six years before it sees a fourth President, take them up on it.
Despite efforts to keep interested parties guessing, the move should come as no surprise.
Putin and Medvedev alike have claimed that decisions were made some years ago regarding who should hold which position in government come 2012 and considering that Medvedev was hand-picked by Putin as his successor in 2008, it has long since been conventional wisdom that the former was simply keeping the door ajar until the latter was legally entitled to return.
Some observers have claimed that the move will be little more than symbolic since Medvedev has been guilty of playing ‘Robin to Putin’s Batman’ throughout his tenure anyway, as infamously described by US officials in wikileaked cables.
But critics are less optimistic citing economic stagnation, increased corruption and a more prevalent police state as likely consequences of the return of Putin’s ‘managed democracy’.
Moreover, it is likely that Russian-foreign relations will hit something of a trough.
In particular, arms-control and trade agreements will likely suffer set-backs as Russia’s membership of the WTO and its compliance with US-led missile defence systems, designed to guard against the Iranian threat, are now at risk.
Putin has been vocal on the latter point in particular, indicating that the dispute over what kind of missile-defence system should be installed – whether that be a NATO-Russian joint command and control structure or Washington’s preferred coordinated system option – would be critical in proving Obama’s sincerity in his stated desire to reset relations with Moscow.
With the ostensible ‘Arab Spring’ calling Israel’s security into question, any further delay on the Iranian missile defence system could prove a diplomatic headache for Washington. But Putin is unlikely to cede ground while he suspects Russia’s own nuclear deterrent to be at risk.
Talk of Putin's rather prolonged reign becoming a parody of Brezhnev’s Soviet rule is not too far wide of the mark; he is certain to be on the front row of Russian politics for some time to come.
Indeed, as Andrew Osborn has highlighted over at The Telegraph, come 2024 Putin may still be as fresh in appearance as he is in presence. Though he won't be the first head of state that begins to look like Jackie Stallone.