Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accepted an offer to become the leader of United Russia, the country’s dominant party, after he becomes prime minister next month.
Putin didn’t really need to become the head of Russia’s ruling party. After all, he created it, and United Russia MPs owe him their career.
Under the leadership of Putin, the party won 315 of 450 parliamentary seats in last December’s carefully rigged elections. On top of this, the outgoing Russian President will also soon become prime minister, after a deal struck with president-elect Dmitri Medvedev ahead of last month’s popular vote.
But Russia is a country where rulers like to take doubleinsurance policies—just in case. Putin himself, for example, consistently made sure that opponents who would have struggled to gather even a handful of votes were harassed, tried and jailed. For, in the traditional paranoid world view of Russian rulers, one is never too sure.
In this latest case, Putin’s eagerness to grab whichever lever of power is available may also be a sign he’s beginning to feel that things won’t be as simple as planned when Dmitri Medvedev officially becomes president: His creature might take a liking to the job—not only to the perks and privileges, but also to the actual power that should come with it.
Medvedev, who formally takes office on 7 May, has already made noises that the source of authority should be the president.
A lawyer by training, he’s on the record as saying that Russia’s economy needs first and foremost a strong legal system and an independent judiciary. And as a long-standing head of Gazprom, the energy giant, his natural power base could be Russia’s businessmen, eager to be rid of the all-too-frequent unpredictable bouts of bureaucratic fury.
Putin is basically a product of the old USSR and Medvedev one of the new Russia. The new president still needs to gain control over the country’s security services—or at least part of them—if only to avoid the possible unpleasantness of the occasional corruption charges that might one day be trumped up if he proves too independent. But Medvedev has a fair chance of succeeding. This may be what Putin has seen—and why his latest move may be an indication of worry more than a sign of his might.
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