Putin rules, but he won’t join Russia’s ruling party
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images Vladimir Putin took another step toward consolidating his post-presidency powers Tuesday by accepting the position of chairman of the United Russia Party, the loyal faction that has supported the president throughout his term. The only thing is, he’s not actually joining the party. At Putin’s request, United Russia has tweaked the rules ...
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin took another step toward consolidating his post-presidency powers Tuesday by accepting the position of chairman of the United Russia Party, the loyal faction that has supported the president throughout his term. The only thing is, he’s not actually joining the party. At Putin’s request, United Russia has tweaked the rules so that Putin can be chairman without actually being a member.
President-elect Dmitry Medvedev also refused party membership, which makes sense. It wouldn’t look very good for Russia’s president to be outranked in the party by his own prime minister. But Putin’s legal maneuvering is more unexpected and more significant. By maintaining his political independence, Putin may be signalling that he has no intention of ceding his central position in Russian politics.
As chairman Putin now effectively controls the State Duma, where United Russia holds an overwhelming majority. This could give him the power to approve new legislation, change the Russian constitution, or initiate impeachment proceedings against Medvedev. United Russia’s overwhelming power is already drawing comparisons to the old Soviet Communist Party. Together with last week’s announcement that the prime minister (who, incidentally, is also Putin) will control the appointment of regional envoys, there seems to be a major restructuring of power away from the Kremlin to the Russian “White House,” where Putin will be taking up residence next month.
But by remaining somewhat removed from the party, Putin can still appear above the fray of the Duma and maintain his highly personalized political “brand.” He is also free to criticize the party as he did yesterday, saying, “It should be debureaucratized and cleansed of strange people pursuing only selfish goals.” (This might thin the ranks quite a bit.)
The big unknown is what Medvedev thinks about all of this. It’s now clear that Vladimir Vladimirovich has no intention of fading away. The new president will need all his wits about him if he plans to be more than a figurehead. Something for Russia’s yogi-in-chief to meditate on.
Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.