For most of last week Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, traveled to places he knows well and feels good about –Istanbul and Paris.
What is very pronounced in the coverage of these trips is that Putin confidently handled the matters that are supposed to be the responsibility of the president, for instance, insisting on the absolute unacceptability of any military strikes against Iran or pushing the “strategic” deal on buying the French Mistral class helicopter carrier.
The question is why then is he so firmly set on restoring his absolute grasp on power?
An answer that appears increasingly plausible is that he simply cannot afford any other option. Indeed, Medvedev’s re-election for the six-year term would grant him a far greater freedom of political hiring and firing than he currently has –and the authority to appoint those who are responsible for the very possible new economic downturn. Modernization would not miraculously become a feasible proposition but a new team of presidential loyalists would eagerly fall on those shadowy figures that now trail in Putin’s tracks. After them, it would soon become his turn to answer for squandered petro-fortunes, and in Russia, failed “national leaders” cannot expect a dignified retirement. This prospect creates high motivation for Putin to leave nothing to chance in the forthcoming “heart-to-heart” with his hapless co-ruler, but then he might have a hard time persuading a very angry country that he is indeed its choice.