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Moscow Diary: Guessing game

The BBC's James Rodgers joins an increasingly popular guessing game among Russians: what could be the real reasons behind Dmitry Medvedev's push to extend the presidential term? His diary is published fortnightly.

CHANGE OF PRESIDENT?

It has all happened very quickly.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Photo: October 2008
Are Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin playing a game of political chess?

It is just a week since President Dmitry Medvedev proposed extending the Russian presidential term from four to six years.

Now the necessary legislation has already been sent to parliament - the State Duma. The relevant committee has already decided that the three readings necessary for the bill to become law can take place simultaneously. That is due to happen on Friday. There is no chance it won't pass.

Mr Medvedev has just completed six months in office. Already, there is whispering about how long he will be there - could this plan to change the system actually mean a change of president?

A year ago, speculation about who would follow Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin's top job swirled around the Russian capital. Now that guessing game has leapt back into life.

Supporters of the current Kremlin administration are firm in their view that six years is not exceptionally long for a president to be in power.

They point to the fact that the proposed change would only apply to the next president, not to Mr Medvedev's current term. That's simple, then.

Not according to those Russians who don't share the majority's apparent enthusiasm for their country's current leadership.

REAL LESSON

"The scenario where early presidential and State Duma elections are called immediately after the constitution is amended seems all the more likely today," says the United Civil Front, Garry Kasparov's opposition party.

A man shopping at a Moscow supermarket. Photo: October 2008
Some goods have begun disappearing from Moscow supermarkets

"And hardly anyone in Russia today has any doubts about who will stand for election to the highest government post in this case. In such a way, the authorities solve the problem of President Putin's illegitimate third term."

Supporters of Mr Putin - who is currently prime minister - would argue that there would be nothing "illegitimate" about a third term.

Even as theory and counter-theory were debated last year, it was made clear that "two terms" as president meant "two consecutive terms". A return was always a possibility.

Go back to that guessing game for a moment, and you will recall the name Sergei Ivanov. He and Mr Medvedev were always mentioned as Mr Putin's most likely successors.

It was Mr Ivanov who, as first deputy prime minister, suggested in 2007 that Russia might base missiles in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. Mr Medvedev repeated that threat last week - as Moscow's possible response to Washington's plans to place elements of a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Mr Ivanov was always seen as the more hawkish of the two candidates; Mr Medvedev the more liberal. The fact that Mr Medvedev is now taking the harder line suggests something else.

To Russia, and sometimes to the wider world, Mr Putin was able to play both roles. No successor was ever going to be able to do so in the same way.

Mr Putin's high public profile during the first days of the fighting in South Ossetia this summer showed that he was still very much in charge.

Mr Medvedev may have met the diplomatic delegations who came to seek a solution, but it was Mr Putin who flew down to the edge of the combat zone to hear the stories of refugees. To make sure no one missed the message, his visit was widely covered by the Russian media.

So the real lesson in the planned extension to the presidential term is not that Mr Putin is preparing a comeback. It is the fact that - even though they have not been told - so many people think this is about him, that shows how powerful he remains.

SPARE CHANGE

Mr Medvedev has already achieved one thing which Mr Putin didn't. The current economic climate seems to have affected some supplies to my local supermarket.

Inflation might have made shopping bills higher - missing goods mean there might be a few roubles left over.

Now, next to the checkout, there is something to spend them on: a portrait of the president. Mr Medvedev, that is.


Your comments:

That 6-year term is not a problem itself. The real problem is a lack of strong and organized political opposition to Putin-Medvedev's block. Kasparov's team is not an effective organization unit. Nor they share common view to major domestic or international issues. Withous such opposition, Russia can repeate USSR's fate - with agening leaders not capable to cope with modern challenges.
Mikhail, Moscow

That is sad. this is all that one can say about Russia today. Majority of Australians just feel very sorry for Russian nation. Shame on Europe for letting this happen! Shame!
Natia, Melbourne, Australia

Some goods became more expensive, it's true. But we still don't feel that there are items (food or any other stuff) dissapearing from supermarkets here. In general the situation is ok.
Misha, Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Mr putin gave the russian regain national pride. He should be rewarded for extended prsidency so that he can improve Russia for the russian.
Gli, NY, USA

With high probability, Medvedev will run in the next elections for the second term. Putin is a crisis manager. He had played his role, unified the country, allowed for economic and cultural development in the expense of tightening of some high order needs and freedoms. Putin understands that his job has been completed and that is why he suggested Medvedev for president. Medvedev will take Russia one step further towards a just and democratic society. He is a representative of the post Soviet generation. Putin as a patriot and a smart individual understands that Russia needs new leaders and new ideas.
Mike Kot, Toronto, Canada

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JAMES RODGERS IN MOSCOW

James Rodgers Leaving for good
Our correspondent's valedictory entry before departing Moscow


MAY - OCT 2008
 

SEPT 2007 - APRIL 2008
 

FEBRUARY - AUGUST 2007
 

IN DEPTH



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