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Friday, Sep. 30, 2011
Mr. Putin's Kremlin comeback plan
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed at a Sept. 24 convention of the United Russia party that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin run for the presidential election set for March 2012. Mr. Putin accepted the proposal and his comeback as Russia's president is believed to be certain. He in turn called on the ruling party to put Mr. Medvedev at the top of its list of candidates in the December 2011 parliamentary elections.
Mr. Putin's run in the 2012 presidential election had been foreseen ever since the so-called Putin-Medvedev tandem was established in 2008 when he stepped down as president to become prime minister due to a constitutional provision prohibiting election of a president for a third term and let Mr. Medvedev become president.
Mr. Putin's policy so far indicates that he will pursue the restoration of Russia's status as a great power and the control of the country through authoritarian methods. He might also take a hard line on the issue of nuclear arms reduction. Thus increased conflict with the United States and European countries cannot be ruled out. Tokyo must closely watch Mr. Putin's moves vis-à-vis Northeast Asia and Japan, including the bilateral territorial issue with Tokyo.
In the tandem setup, Mr. Medvedev has been regarded as a puppet of Mr. Putin. But conflict has cropped up between Mr. Medvedev, who has been inclined to push the modernization of Russia, including a political system reform and privatization, and Mr. Putin, whose political base mainly comprises people with strong ties to security organizations.
Mr. Putin aims to politically stabilize Russia. But people's dissatisfaction appears spreading as shown by protest movements in cities. As president, Mr. Putin enjoyed an approval rating of more than 70 percent. But a poll taken in July 2011 showed that the approval rating was 50 percent for Mr. Putin and 43 percent for Mr. Medvedev.
At the party convention, Mr. Putin said, "We need to spin the wheel of economic development up to six to seven percent a year." But as long as the Russian economy's reliance on sales of natural resources continues to be large, its foundation will be shaky.
If Mr. Putin is preoccupied with purging political foes and concentrating power on him and political friends close to him, and fails to build an open, democratic society, Russia's resilience as a nation will rather weaken.