Sunday, September 13, 2009

Setting the Stage for Putin II: The Sequel?

An offhand comment during a two-hour Q-and-A with a collection of Russia experts has sparked a new round of speculation that Vladimir Putin could be planning to again run for president of Russia. According to the Russian constitution, no one can serve more than two consecutive terms (unlike the US where no one can be elected to more than two terms period), meaning Putin can legally run for election in 2012, and presumably re-election in 2018.

Right now Putin is serving as prime minister, while the presidency is held by Dmitry Medvedev. The two refer to their arrangement as 'tandem' rule, while critics tend to paint Medvedev as someone who's little more than Putin's hand-picked puppet and official seat-warmer. But I am wondering if Putin and Medvedev might be engaging in a little bit of 'good cop/bad cop'.

Last Monday I wrote that Medvedev was talking about slapping restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Russia. On Friday Medvedev moved from talking to acting, ordering the Russian Duma (their parliament) to draft laws within 90 days that would restrict advertising, producing and selling alcohol in Russia, while also giving local officials the authority to ban the sale and/or consumption of alcohol at certain times of day and in specific locations of their choosing. The British medical journal The Lancet has reported that alcohol abuse accounts for nearly half the deaths among Russians aged 19-54, and is a major factor in the terribly short life expectancy of Russian men (just 59 years).

The last Russian leader to try to slap restrictions on the use of alcohol, Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, was roundly attacked for his efforts and saw his popularity plummet, which brings me back to the good cop/bad cop argument. Could Medvedev be pushing reforms like the restriction on alcohol, and another long-discussed campaign against corruption - reforms that are desperately needed, yet will be deeply unpopular, as the 'bad cop', knowing it will destroy his popularity, allowing Putin to step in in 2012 to retake the reigns of power after someone else did the dirty work for him?

It's something to think about.
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