Saturday, June 23, 2007

Would Putin Give Up Power Only Temporarily?

The Washington Post has a story by Peter Finn today speculating that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin might not exactly step down after two terms as he has been saying he would do, but actually support a new "technical" president who would be under his wing, and would give power back to him after a short term.

This would get around the provision in the Soviet Constitution limiting a president to two terms.

Russian sources told Finn that, actually, the arrangement would be comparable to Franklin D. Roosevelt being elected to four terms in the United States. However, Roosevelt never stepped down during that period as a surrogate.

Two first deputy prime ministers, Sergei Ivanov, 53, and Dmitri Medvedev, 41, have been mentioned as possible Putin successors when he is scheduled to step down next year.

But, of course, the new arrangement would keep Putin in power in all but name, and probably would not surprise the rest of the world, since Putin has been running what is very much a "directed democracy" in the Russian state for most of his two terms. He is in charge.

However, Finn points out that when Putin first came to power, some viewed him as a stand-in for Boris Yeltsin, without real power. It didn't turn out that way, and the question is once a Putin successor was elected, would he necessarily do Putin's bidding, or be willing to hand back power when Putin wanted?

Russia in the post-Communist period still has a system that is being formed. Recently, as everyone knows, Putin has adopted a more anti-Western, anti-American tone, and has been taking full advantage of Russia's vast oil and gas resources to try to lord it over the European countries it supplies, and not only in the old Eastern bloc.

This obviously is an immensely significant story, one neither the L.A. Times or New York Times has yet touched. Last year, there were proposals that the Russian Parliament simply extend Putin's second term. The Finn article opens up a new possibility.


There are hopeful reports this morning that North Korea has agreed to shut down its plutonium reactor in three weeks, and also give a list to the other major parties that have been involved in six-power talks of all its nuclear resources pursuant to an agreement to dismantle its nuclear arms. In exchange, the other powers would provide North Korea with a million tons of oil and other aid.

The agreement is the subject of many articles this morning, and it follows a visit to North Korea by Christopher R. Hill, the main U.S. envoy in the matter. Hill was received in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, with unusual cordiality.

Hill's visit followed the transfer of $25 million in blocked funds from a Macau bank to the North Koreans. This had been subject to a number of hangups.

It is certainly too soon to say that the question of North Korean nuclear weaponry has been solved. There could still be setbacks. But this is better news than we have had from that theatre for some time.



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