New Russian leader to be strong enough not to let Putin return in 2012

Russia’s Just Russia Party will nominate Vladimir Putin for president in 2012, the speaker of the Federation Council (upper house of parliament), Sergei Mironov said. Pravda.Ru has interviewed western experts to find out the possible consequences of Putin’s nomination for presidency in 2012.

Pravda.Ru has interview two major western experts in this field -- Marshall I. Goldman, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, and Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program.

Pravda.Ru: Vladimir Putin is to leave next year. What are the advantages and disadvantages of his presidency?

Frederick Starr: It is too early to judge Mr. Putin's presidency. Most evaluations today are highly partisan and therefore suspect. I suspect that when more serious evaluations are made they will turn on such questions as the role of the national state in modern economies and societies, whether Mr. Putin's overall approach looks forwards in time or is a product of short-termed nostalgia, and whether the leadership group that Mr. Putin created and enriched evolves smoothly into a more open and democratic system or, instead, breaks down amidst conflict.

Marshall Goldman: The advantage is that he has brought stability to Russia-- something almost everyone in Russia seemed to want. He has made Russians again proud of their country and ended the humiliation that came with the loss of superpower status. Of course he was helped in this by the fact that oil prices rose to over $70 a barrel and so oil production which had been dropping increased as did exports. But he also used the concept of "national champion" to use companies like Gazprom to further state interests and stop the asset stripping that was filling the pockets of some of the executives but not the state. That has largely changed.

The disadvantages are that Putin has done away with so many of the political reforms that came after the collapse of communism and brought Russia into the democratic world. He ended the direct election for governor, he ended direct elections to the Duma so now there are only the party lists, he severely restricted freedom of the press and he has weaken the rule of law-- it is more like the Law of the Ruler. While that has made it possible for him to push out some of the original oligarchs, he has brought in a new set-- what I call the "new oligarchs" most of whom can also be called "FOPs' Friends of Putin. They now hold jobs in both the government and the business sector. Russia is the only country in the world which allows this type of profit diversion. It is not as bad as under Yeltsin when the private oligarchs enriched themselves- but the principle is much the same.

Pravda.Ru: There are a lot of rumors today saying that Putin may become Russian president again in 2012. Do you think it could bring positive effect to the nation?

Marshall Goldman: Of course it all depends on who is the leader in the interim and what his policies are. If he is a poor leader, than Putin will be welcomed. However I suspect that after four years, the new leader will be strong enough and hungry enough to want to hold on to his new powers and this will make it difficult for Putin to return to power-- no matter what promises are made beforehand.

Frederick Starr: It is too early to judge whether Mr. Putin could actually return to power in 2012, even if he wishes to do so.

Pravda.Ru: Who do you think is able to replace Putin today?

Marshall Goldman: There are several good candidates-- the two Deputy Prime Ministers--- Medvedev and Ivanov-- my preference would be for Medvedev since I am uncomfortable around former senior KGB agents. Also remember that few thought that Putin would turn out to be as successful as he became. After all he was only a Lt. Colonel in the KGB and had very little if any experience as an administrator or a leader dealing in national much less international affairs. So just because a person has had no prior experience as a world leader does not necessarily mean that he will be a poor leader and unable to learn on the job.

Frederick Starr: Russia is a big country with many talented men and women. One hopes that future Russian leaders will bring rich experience in the modern sectors of post-Soviet life and not be drawn from the claustrophic worlds whence Mr. Putin and many of his immediate colleagues have come.

Pravda.Ru: Who do you think was the most successful Russian leader? And why?

Frederick Starr: Russia's most successful leader? Alexander II. He defined the oligarchs of his day and did not create new oligarchs. He emancipated 90% of the population from serfdom, reformed local government on the basis of decentralization and elective self-government, created new courts and juries, and reformed the military in such a way that it became both more effective and more humane. His two serious mistakes were the preservation of the obshchina, which prepared the way for Soviet collective farms, and his brutal treatment of Poland, when it dared apspire to the same reforms that Alexander himself had introduced in Russia.

Marshall Goldman: For me-- Gorbachev was-- I know few Russians will agree but Gorbachev oversaw the transition to a democratic and market system and did it with almost no loss of life. He started out poorly but came to understand that Russia and Eastern Europe had to change. Just think of what he could have have had oil prices risen to $70 a barrel.

Pravda.Ru: If Putin is elected president again in 2012, what do you think he will have to change in his foreign policy?

Marshall Goldman: By 2012, I expect there will be many changes that new leaders will have to deal with. For Russia, China will be a much more significant problem-- especially since you are its neighbor. It will be hard enough for the US to deal with China and fortunately we are not neighbors. I suspect Russia will also have some very serious problems dealing with the Islamic world-- first of all Iran which used to be a neighbor and is still close enough. These two problems will take much more of Russia's attention-- I don't think either the US or Europe will be as central to Russia's daily concerns since both China and the Islamic world will be much more difficult to deal with.

Frederick Starr: Will Russia need a different foreign policy in 2012 if Putin returns? Russia may find that its behavior while swelled by oil and gas money may come to haunt it at a later time. Sooner or later the Russian leadership elite will have to abandon its 19th century style of "zero sum thinking" and control of others and find more collaborative modes of interaction. All powers must do this, of course.

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov