Russian President Vladimir Putin recently gave the strongest hint to date that he plans on remaining at the helm of the ship of state following the end of his second and final constitutionally mandated term next May. Putin, who will head the federal list of candidates for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party in the December 2 State Duma elections, told workers in Krasnoyarsk on November 13: “If the people vote for United Russia, whose list I lead, it means that they trust me and, in turn, means that I will have the moral right to hold those in the Duma and the Cabinet responsible for the implementation of the objectives that have been identified so far.” Putin added: “In what form will I do this? I will refrain for now from providing a direct answer. But various possibilities exist” (Moscow Times, November 14).
As the Moscow Times noted on November 16, Putin could become the State Duma speaker following the Duma elections. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, for his part, told the Novyi Region news agency that Putin could take over his position as head of the Russia parliament’s upper chamber or become “simply a senator” – that is, an ordinary Federation Council member (Nr2.ru, November 14).
Meanwhile, hundreds of activists from across Russia met in Tver on November 15 and voted to formally establish the “All-Russian Council of Initiative Groups to Support Putin” movement, culminating weeks of nationwide rallies under the banner “For Putin” (Moscow Times, November 16). A senior United Russia official has called for creating the institution of “national leader” with a final say over policy, while State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who heads United Russia, has said that Putin’s “role as leader” will be guaranteed by the “parliamentary majority” United Russia is likely to garner in the State Duma elections (EDM, November 12).
Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and former deputy prime minister, recently told the weekly Itogi that Putin would able to run again as president next year, essentially by exploiting loopholes in Russia’s constitution and electoral laws (EDM, November 12).
Shokhin is apparently not alone in thinking that this might happen. Indeed, the most popular theory at the moment is that “Putin somehow or another will go for a third term,” Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on November 16. “Precisely this scenario, as Nezavisimaya gazeta found out, has mass circulation both at Okhotny Ryad [the State Duma building in Moscow] and in the political community,” the newspaper wrote. “Its gist is simple. The tallying of the results of the parliamentary elections will take place after the start of the presidential election campaign. Consequently, if Putin accepts his [parliamentary] deputy’s credentials, and that means he resigns from the post of president, pre-term [presidential] elections cannot be declared – the point is that the regular [presidential] elections will already have been set.” According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Putin will thus get around a legal provision that forbids a president whose resignation has triggered pre-term elections from running as a candidate in those elections. “And the constitutional prohibition on one person occupying the post of Russian Federation president more than two terms in row will thereby also be circumvented – Putin will be participating in the [presidential] election campaign as an ordinary [parliamentary] deputy,” the newspaper wrote.
Nezavisimaya gazeta reported that this scenario was put forward by several State Duma deputies and a “source close to the presidential administration.” The newspaper quoted the latter as saying that Putin has not made a final decision on the issue. “The president is vacillating, although in his entourage they believe there is no other way to keep him as leader of the nation.” Nezavisimaya gazeta reported that, according to its source, Putin might not even accept his credentials as a State Duma deputy, but simply resign sometime in mid-December. “Naturally, [he will resign] not for no particular reason, but after United Russia scores a stunning victor in the December 2 elections and a mass movement asks the president to stay,” the newspaper quoted the source as saying. “All of this can be organized as an impromptu decision following direct counsel with the masses.” The Nezavisimaya gazeta source asserted, in the words of the newspaper, “No other variants for Putin’s future are any longer being considered in the Kremlin.”
Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that Alexander Shokhin had put forward a similar scenario in his Itogi interview, but quoted him as saying now that, given Putin’s repeated insistence that he will leave office and that another person will be in the Kremlin next year, it is likely that Putin will become prime minister and that the powers of that office will be widened. Still, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported that it asked an unnamed high-ranking official in the presidential administration to comment on Shokhin’s original scenario of Putin running for president again next year, and that the official “became flustered.” The newspaper added, however, that the official recalled, “that it was precisely Shokhin who in 1999 precisely predicted the date of Boris Yeltsin’s pre-term resignation” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 16). On December 19, 1999, the day that Russia was holding parliamentary elections, Shokhin told Segodnya that Yeltsin might resign after the elections but before the State Duma held its first session. “For instance on December 31, New Year’s Eve,” Shokhin told the now-defunct newspaper. “In such a way the president could close the century with a bang” (Moscow Times, January 6, 2000).