Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 28

Acting President Vladimir Putin, who remains the overwhelming favorite in the March 26 presidential election, has stressed the need to strengthen the state, but has also insisted that he has in mind a Western-style, democratic model of political and economic development. Yesterday, for instance, in an interview broadcast on Russian Public Television (ORT), Putin stressed the necessity of maintaining and developing civil rights and press freedom, and a political opposition, while dismissing talk that a dictatorship could emerge in Russia (ORT, February 8). Also yesterday, while in a meeting with students of the Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology, the acting president said he believed that in order to achieve stability in society, it was necessary to have stable political formations, “possibly parties of the Western type (Russian agencies, February 8). Putin has also spoken of the need for a “dictatorship of laws” to replace what he sees as the current chaos in state administration.

Putin, however, has not yet published his full program, and noted yesterday that it would become “an object of attack” and “gnawed at and torn to pieces” by his rivals for the presidency were he to put it out (ORT, February 8). Putin has a think-tank working on his program. Its head, German Gref, said in an interview published this week that the program would include, among other things, “a new social contract” between the state and the citizenry, and measures to level the economic playing field to give all economic actors an equal chance, such as lowering and simplifying taxes (Itogi, February 8).

Some observers, however, suggest that there may be a gulf between Putin’s stated intentions, aimed at the March 26 election, and his real plans. For instance, the newspaper Segodnya claimed today that Putin had circulated around the executive branch an analysis made by former First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, who was ousted from office in June 1996 along with such notorious “hardliners” like Presidential Security Service chief Aleksandr Korzhakov and Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov. In his analysis, Soskovets, who currently heads the Association of Financial-Industrial Groups, reportedly points to Belarus’ alleged economic successes, including a higher growth rate than Russia’s, pointing with approval to its approach to state regulation and the use of what he calls “state marketing.” According to Segodnya, Putin recently attached Soskovets’ analysis to a draft of the Russian government’s list of first-order tasks for creating a Russia-Belarus union government, and urged Russia’s various agencies and ministries to take Soskovets’ suggestions into account in examining the union government project. Segodnya–which, it should be noted, has been regularly sniping at Putin–said Soskovets’ suggestions would amount to a return to the Gosplan, the Soviet Union’s economic planning agency (Segodnya, February 9).

Some observers also fear that Putin will be a “centralizer” when it comes to relations with the regions. At the end of last month, Putin declared war on what he called the legal “chaos” in some of Russia’s regions, which, he warned, could “turn into a critical mass capable of exploding the common constitutional field” (Russian agencies, January 31). According to a subsequent newspaper report, the presidential administration has plans to “centralize the Federation” gradually, by means of constitutional amendments. The goal is apparently an entirely new federal system, according to which the country will be divided up into provinces headed by governors who are appointed by the president, rather than elected (Izvestia, February 2).

It is interesting to note that Yevgeny Primakov, during his tenure as prime minister, also called for “a rigid vertical system of authority” and urged constitutional changes by which “local elective bodies” would elect governors from among candidates chosen by the president (see the Monitor for February 23, 1999).