Russia’s Moving Presidential Target

Who succeeds Vladimir Putin is not as important as how. The real historical significance of the choice that Russia will face in 2008 will be determined not by the next president’s personal qualities, but by his loyalties – that is, to whom he owes his job.

Recently, a small event caused a major stir in Russian politics. An aide to President Vladimir Putin, Igor Shuvalov, said that it was realistic to expect the appearance of a new person whom Putin would consider his potential successor. The statement hit like a bombshell, producing an explosion of comments.

There is nothing strange in this. Russia’s somewhat archaic political culture overly personifies power. Perceptions and assessments of the country’s future often depend heavily on the personality of its leader, his resoluteness, and his intellectual and moral qualities.

Furthermore, Putin himself is interested in preserving uncertainty with regard to his successor for as long as possible. By doing so, he avoids the damage to his authority that would be caused by becoming a “lame duck,” particularly given Russia’s servile bureaucracy and its lack of reliable institutions and respected traditions to carry out a smooth transfer of power.

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