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24 August 2017
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No longer a relative, not a neighbor yet

Today Ukrainian politicians allude to Russia mainly when it comes to setting gas prices in the winter and the subject of using the Russian language in pre-election canvassing. Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is completing the formation of a power structure...

Today Ukrainian politicians allude to Russia mainly when it comes to setting gas prices in the winter and the subject of using the Russian language in pre-election canvassing. Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is completing the formation of a power structure that will determine Ukrainian-Russian relations in the next decades.

 Russia’s fate will be directly related to the preservation of a strong presidential power. Putin said to western political scientists at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club on September 14: “I’ve worked all these years to make Russia mighty. Russian cannot be powerful if its president is weak. I am not going to destroy everything that has been achieved over recent years.” Putin has good reason for preserving a rigid vertical of power. He argues that this is the only way to avoid an exhausting and destructive battle of the elites after the next presidential election in Russia slated for March 2008.

 After Putin appointed his long-time friend and not too well known politician Viktor Zubkov as Prime Minister on September 14, Russian political analysts and politicians were virtually unanimous on the fact that Zubkov is the No. 1 candidate to replace Putin in the presidential office. Whatever the case, analysts believe that Zubkov’s next step on the presidential path is become the leader of the “law enforcement bodies”, which is currently under the influence of Sergei Ivanov, First Vice Premier, former Minister of Defense and Putin’s old companion-in-arms since the times they served in the KGB.

 Up until recently, Ivanov was said to be the main candidate for the president’s office in Russia. However, he will most likely not go against the will of “the father of the nation” and soon will renounce his status as the informal leader of Russia’s “law enforcement officers” in favor of the newly appointed Zubkov.

 The Russian liberals headed by Dmitri Medvedev, who is First Vice Premier and former head of the Presidential Administration, represent another powerful economic clan that has a great deal of clout. At the moment, the position of the “liberals” (who agree with the “law enforcement officers” on the main points) is accentuated by continued economic reforms and Russia’s alignment with the West. In domestic policy they support the idea of creating a dominant party system (as in Japan or Mexico) in which the president supporting the Yedinaya Rossiya party will play the role of an ideological and administrative integrator for the political elite.

 “Law enforcement officers” will place the main accent on strengthening the administrative apparatus and propagating the Orthodox and “Eurasian” ideology. As for the country’s economic strategy, their main task will be to meet the demands of citizens at the state’s expense through the redistribution of profits from extraction and export of oil and gas.

 In the foreign policy sphere they have to make a stake on a strategic partnership with China, India and Iran as a counterweight to the U.S. and the European Union.

 Putin proved through his recent reformatting of the government that for him there are no clans in Russian politics, only separate individuals whom he chooses for their personal skills and experience in cooperation in order to reinforce his own authority.

 The Russian president is trying to form a system of relations in his inner circle that would allow him to restrain the aggression of different groups and direct their energy towards solving the country’s problems. If this process is put on the backburner, this could undermine the authority of the current governing bodies as it happened with Boris Yeltsin’s family in 1998-1999. In this context, commentary offered by the Kremlin’s spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky is of great significance: “The Russian government in its new configuration is Putin’s government; Putin will be his successor, while someone from his political team will become the new president.”

 These words completely correspond to the latest changes in the government and the appointment of Zubkov as prime minister. Putin regards him not only as his potential successor that will take office in March 2008, but also as the guarantor of the continuation of “Putin’s” course. The words of Russia’s current president are testimony to this assertion: “I said that those who feel should leave office and those who feel I should stay are quite right, because I made a firm decision from the very start: any individual with power should not change the structure of authority according to his own likings and preferences.” In short, whoever the successor might be that individual should resign to the idea that it will simply be a mouthpiece of the system created by the predecessor.

 At the same time, the new president will be obligated to keep a watchful eye that the “liberals” and “law enforcement officers” are fulfilling “Putin’s Plan” of resolving all the key issues for the country. Russia’s president recently alluded on a number of occasions to main Russian problems that require solutions in the following decades. Among them are corruption, a non-diversified economy and demographic recession. Putin made it clear that the task of the new president will be to preserve Putin’s personal achievements during his tenure: namely, integrity of the country, economic growth and the solution of people’s social problems.

 As for relations with Russia’s neighbors, the harsh and pragmatic style of Putin’s diplomacy and energy pressure will be maintained. Expressing his view of Russia’s foreign policy after 2008, Putin said: “I do not want the population or the leaders of the country to be embraced by missionary ideas in the future. We should be a full-fledged country that respects itself and is capable of defending its interests, yet is still ready to find a compromise and be a convenient partner for all participants in international relations.” It is high time for Ukraine to think about the factors and arguments that will force the Kremlin to be a partner, not a predominant force in relations with official Kyiv.

By Petro Rivniy, Kyiv Weekly

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