President Putin commands the support of a good 70 per cent of Russians and he could probably lift the numbers of United Russia to the two-thirds majority in the Duma needed to change the constitution and redistribute power. Under that scenario, United Russia, hitherto an ideas-free Putin vehicle, would transmute into a ruling party with long-term tenure – not so much a Communist-style one-party set-up as like an Institutional Revolutionary party, which ruled Mexico for most of the last century.Jeremy Putley has sent me the text of a letter, so far unpublished by the FT, which has recently acquired a new editor:
If Mr Putin intends to run things – and clearly, he does – then it is arguably better that he rules through institutions than from behind the scenes as, say, head of an arm of the state such as Gazprom. Yet even for someone so clearly in control, it is not easy to rejig the sources of real power. This transition is not over yet.
3 October 2007
Putin’s power play with democracy, editorial, today
Parliamentary democracy is generally found to be preferable to the alternative democratic model of government based on an elected, all-powerful president. There are very few instances of good presidential working models, and the Russian system is not one of them. It might, therefore, appear to be a step in the right direction if power were to transfer, in the person of Mr Putin, from the office of president to that of prime minister.
But this is to ignore the merits of the individual concerned, and it was a significant omission from your editorial today that you have made no comment on the prospective candidate’s suitability for office. Mr Putin’s record disqualifies him.
In the years since 2000 Mr Putin has presided over a state whose salient aspects have included the conduct of a war in Chechnya characterised by massive civilian deaths, savage destruction, and wide-scale crimes against humanity; the imposition, in Chechnya, of a fake political settlement while repressions continued unabated; the abuse of the judicial system to lock up persons who are perceived as opponents, following dubious judicial proceedings which are frequently in camera; widespread torture of suspects, documented with impeccable credibility by the late Anna Politkovskaya; the creation of a domestic terrorist threat as a consequence of repressive policies; ineffectual leadership at times of crisis; and, not least, the suppression of democratic freedoms.
The secrecy in which the Chechnya war was conducted was deliberate Kremlin policy, intended to hide the lawless anarchy created in Chechnya, the war crimes committed by the Russian military, and the mass murder of the civilian population. It would be a pity, I suggest, if that policy were to be rewarded. Crimes should not go unnoticed and unremarked; all the more so if “a good 70 per cent of Russians” support the incumbent president.