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BBC TwoThis World


Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Russia's 'managed democracy'
By Richard Denton
Producer/director, Putin's Palace

In less than two years, Vladimir Putin must relinquish the presidency of Russia, but who is in line for the job?

With unprecedented access inside the Kremlin, documentary film maker Richard Denton asks the people who work for Putin what will happen next.

Kremlin rooftops at sunset

It is a very strange feeling to be walking down a dark corridor inside the Kremlin at midnight.

It is a bit like being in a spy movie.

I enter one office and discover two implausibly glamorous officers of the presidential administration, Larissa and Alexandra, going through tomorrow's papers looking for articles about who will be the next president of Russia.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are not keen to talk about it.

When I ask Larissa to take time off from checking through the stories to make her own predictions about who might replace Putin, she offers to read my horoscope instead.

The people who work in the presidential administration owe their loyalty - and their jobs - to Mr Putin.

After all, whoever comes next could appoint their own staff.

Moving forward

After the fall of communism, in what was then the Soviet Union, this country rapidly became a chaotic, lawless and very dangerous place.

The throne room in the Grand Palace
The Kremlin is a self-contained city with a multitude of palaces, armouries and churches

For most Russians, their new found "freedom and democracy" simply meant being much poorer and dying much younger.

When Vladimir Putin was appointed, and then elected, president, he promised a return to law and order.

It was music to the ears of the majority, even if some liberal democrats were nervous that it would herald a return to the authoritarianism of the old Soviet regimes.

Now six years later, everyone knows that Mr Putin should, constitutionally, relinquish the presidency in 2008.

But what will happen then? Who will become the next president?

New spin

Russia has no real history of dealing "democratically" with these questions.

There is no tradition of Western style presidential campaigns or even of really "credible" presidential elections.

Under Mr Putin, the Kremlin has learned about spin.

Dimitri Pescov
Pescov realises how crucial it is for the Russian people to trust Putin

The chief "spin-master" is Dimitri Pescov, a suave and urbane chain smoker with an easy charm and fluent English.

He defends what he calls the "managed democracy" of Russia by claiming that there is no single model of democracy, so each country carves out its own style.

"And as for the Russian style?" I ask.

"Just because it is different does not necessarily mean that it is wrong," he tells me.

As you try to grasp exactly what he means by this, you cannot help noticing a poster on the notice board that reads: "Diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to Hell in such a way that he looks forward to the journey!"

On that definition, Dimitri is a great diplomat.


The most obvious Putin-style candidates for the presidency in 2008 are the recently promoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and the Minister of Defence Sergei Ivanov.

Medvedev is, so far, untarnished.

But there are scandals brewing in the army about the brutal mistreatment of young soldiers, so Ivanov needs to handle himself carefully to remain in Mr Putin's good books.

But the question of the president's successor is more relevant for some Kremlin workers than others.

The Russians do not really know who to vote for and they expect their president to name his own successor

Konstantin stands guard over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

He says he is not really concerned about who exactly the president is, although he is very aware of the honour of his duty.

As he is young and single, perhaps of more immediate concern to him is that girls come to look at the soldiers on guard at the tomb.

"They call out their numbers and you remember them," he says. An unconventional type of dating agency.

Trust factor

Dimitri Pescov, meanwhile, is preparing for the biggest press conference in the world.

President Vladimir Putin
Former KGB man, Vladimir Putin is serving his second term in office

Mr Putin will face 1,000 journalists live on television for two hours of apparently unscripted questions.

The president is good at this kind of thing and Mr Pescov is clearly confident.

The real point of it, though, is to convince the Russian people that they can trust their president. Trust him to have all the facts at his fingertips and to be able to deal with whatever the Russian and the international press can throw at him.

And the reason they need to be confident of this?

Well, the Russians do not really know who to vote for and they expect their president to name his own successor.

They want Mr Putin to select the most "appropriate" candidate for the job.

And those who do believe in "managed democracy" - like Mr Pescov - want the electorate to feel confident enough to vote Putin's man into office.

As far as Pescov and the rest of the presidential administration are concerned, that is the best way to secure Russia's future.

And it also happens to be the best way to secure the future of their own jobs.

This World: Putin's Palace was broadcast on Thursday, 11 May, 2006 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.


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