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Will Putin run again for President? Here’s why he probably will and why he should

Alexander Mercouris

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As 2017 approaches its close, and as the Presidential election in March next year looms closer, the rumour mill in Moscow is working over time speculating about Putin’s intentions.

Whilst most expect Putin to run again, there are some suggestions that he is thinking of an exit, and is considering nominating a successor.

Names which typically get mentioned are Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, who was Russia’s President between 2008 and 2012, and Lieutenant General Alexey Dyumin, who is currently the Governor of Tula Region.

I have no idea what Putin’s plans are and I doubt that any one of those speculating does either, though I am sure that the top people in the Kremlin all know.  However, I would personally be very surprised if Putin decides not to run again.

Not only does his immense popularity all but guarantee his victory, but there is no indication that anyone else is being prepared to take over from him, which I would expect to be visibly the case by now if Putin really has decided not to run.

The two candidates that most often get mentioned – Prime Minister Medvedev and Lieutenant General Dyumin – are cases in point.

Medvedev has had a low profile recently, and especially because he was President previously I would have thought that if there was a plan for him to run again steps would have been taken by now to bring him forward and to raise his profile.

As for Dyumin, he is clearly an interesting man, with an impressive record in Russia’s military and intelligence services, who apparently played an important role in the events in Ukraine and Crimea in 2014.

Moreover as an ex-military officer he is the sort of person who would be likely to appeal to what might be loosely called the “left patriotic” side of Russia’s political spectrum.

However Dyumin’s entire career up to his appointment in 2016 as the Tula Region’s Governor was in the military, intelligence and security services.

He has no background in Russia’s central civilian institutions – the Presidential Administration and the Russian government – whilst his position as Governor of the Tula Region, though a very important one, places him well outside the centre of power in the Kremlin.

Dyumin is clearly someone to watch, and his appointment as Governor of the Tula Region may have been intended to bring him closer to the Russian people and to give him experience of Russia’s civilian administration in preparation for greater things.

However it is important to remember that the Tula Region is an important centre of Russia’s defence industries, so appointing a military officer as its Governor at a time when the Russian military is in the throws of a complex period of rearmament is perhaps not quite as surprising as it is sometimes made to appear.

Regardless, it seems on the face of it unlikely that Dyumin’s time is now.

At 45 he has plenty of time ahead of him, and if at some point he is given a job in Russia’s government or in the Kremlin he will become someone to take very seriously.

However realistically, if he is being considered as a possible future President, then that looks more likely to be in 2024 than in 2018.

There are other possible candidates who might at a stretch stand in Putin’s place in the election next year.

Obvious names are Sergey Shoigu – Russia’s extremely popular and very capable Defence Minister – and Valentina Matviyenko, the ambitious chair of Russia’s Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) who has been performing important diplomatic tasks recently.

However again I see little evidence that any of these people are being brought forward in a way that might suggest that they are being prepared to stand for President next year.

In my opinion the delay in announcing that Putin will run is probably explained by a wish to avoid the confusion that arose on the last occasion when that happened in 2011.

It is generally accepted that on that occasion the announcement was botched, giving a further spark to the street protests that took place that year.

My guess is that the Kremlin this time wants to keep the election period as short as possible so as to avoid anything like that happening again, which is why the announcement that Putin is standing again is being delayed to the last possible moment.

However in saying all this a word of caution is in order.

On the last two occasions when Russia held Presidential elections – in 2008 and in 2012 – I got the Presidential nominee in both cases wrong.

In 2008 I expected Putin to nominate his longstanding ally Sergey Ivanov, but he chose Dmitry Medvedev instead.  In 2012 I expected Medvedev to stand again, but he and Putin decided that it should be Putin who would run instead.

Obviously those mistakes makes me less confident about my predictions for next year.

Of two things however I am sure.

The first is that an article which recently appeared in the Independent saying that Putin is “tired” is certainly wrong.  Bryan MacDonald has provided a detailed response, but to see why the article is wrong it is only necessary to look at what Putin has been doing over the last few days.

Over the last week Putin has (1) chaired a key meeting of his military and defence industry chiefs; (2) met with Presidents Assad of Syria and Zeman of the Czech Republic; (3) is about to meet with Presidents Erdogan of Turkey, Rouhani of Iran, and Al-Bashir of Sudan; (4) has had a series of telephone conversations with President Trump of the United States, President Sisi of Egypt, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and the Emir of Qatar; (5) has travelled to Crimea to unveil a monument to Tsar Alexander III; and has had well publicised meetings with (6) Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (to discuss production of Russia’s supersonic TU-160 bomber); (7) the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; and (8) the head of Russia’s taxation service.

This pace of activity does not suggest someone who is “tired”.

Irrespective of what Putin’s plans are, my clear view is that this would be completely the wrong moment for him to leave the Presidency.

Relations with the West remain extremely tense.  Vacating the Presidency to someone else will be seen as a sign of weakness in the West, and may lead to exorbitant and dangerous expectations of a change of course.  After all that is what happened when Putin left the Presidency in 2008.

Far from this reducing tensions it is easy to see how after a brief thaw this could heighten tensions further.

That too after all is what happened after Putin left the Presidency in 2008, with the so-called ‘reset’ quickly followed by the so-called ‘second Cold War’.

Far better that the Western powers should be made to understand that no change in direction or policy in Russia is going to happen, so that they eventually accommodate themselves to this fact.  Knowledge that Putin will continue to be around for a further six years is the only obvious way to do it.

The situation in the Middle East remains extremely unsettled, with all eyes on Russia to achieve a fair and equitable settlement of the Syrian war.

That requires someone with great experience and authority and supreme diplomatic skills to see the process through.  No potential successor to Putin has these qualities – all of which require long experience to acquire – to anything like the degree that Putin does.

Closer to home, the situation in Ukraine remains extremely dangerous.

The peace process in the conflict in the Donbass is at an impasse, with low level fighting on the contact line going on all the time.  Despite occasional claims of stabilisation, the pressure on living standards in the rest of Ukraine continues, with the underlying economic dynamics continuing to spiral down.

Political pressures appear to be increasing, with Poroshenko’s popularity having collapsed, and with a protest tent city once more on Maidan Square, but with no one having the authority or the popularity to take over.

In such a situation the danger of a further escalation in the conflict and of a further outbreak of violence is very real, with the Maidan government already embroiled in bitter quarrels with its former ‘friends’: Poland, Belarus and Hungary, and fully capable of restarting the war at any time.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that it is fear of Putin that is at least in part responsible for keeping the situation in Ukraine in check, and if he goes there has to be a very real danger that a simultaneously pressured and emboldened Kiev might see this as a sign of weakness and go for broke by restarting the war.

Were such a thing to happen would an inexperienced and untried successor to Putin know how to handle it, especially given that Ukraine would probably once more have Western support?

Putin has also developed an exceptional rapport with any number of world leaders eg. Xi Jinping of China, Modi of India, Erdogan of Turkey, Salman of Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu of Israel, Sisi of Egypt, and Abe of Japan.

Such a rapport is not automatically transferable to a successor, and at a time when the international situation is so tense it looks reckless to throw this asset away.

Turning to Russia’s domestic situation, the country has now exited recession but the very tight (in my opinion over-tight) monetary policy followed by the Central Bank – which is now being criticised by no less an institution than the IMF – has slowed growth and depressed living standards even as inflation has fallen faster than expected.

Putin’s immense popularity has limited the political damage, but there can be no assurance that this will continue under a less popular successor.

More than anything else what Russia needs now is political stability so that the hard work of stabilising the economy and of reducing inflation following the oil price fall and the 2015 inflation spike is given time to bear fruit.

There are good reasons to think that sometime after 2018 things will start to improve both internationally and domestically, with the Syrian war ended, relations with China continuing to deepen, a new more amenable post-Merkel government in Germany, possibly a more civil relationship with the US, and the economy putting on growth.

That will be the time for Putin to think about going and to prepare a successor, who might be Dyumin or someone else.

To do so now by contrast looks premature and reckless, putting everything which has been achieved at risk, and I hope Putin and his colleagues recognise the fact.

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Putin Keeps Cool and Averts WWIII as Israeli-French Gamble in Syria Backfires Spectacularly

Putin vowed that Russia would take extra precautions to protect its troops in Syria, saying these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.”

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Authored by Robert Bridge via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


By initiating an attack on the Syrian province of Latakia, home to the Russia-operated Khmeimim Air Base, Israel, France and the United States certainly understood they were flirting with disaster. Yet they went ahead with the operation anyways.

On the pretext that Iran was preparing to deliver a shipment of weapon production systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli F-16s, backed by French missile launches in the Mediterranean, destroyed what is alleged to have been a Syrian Army ammunition depot.

What happened next is already well established: a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, which the Israeli fighter jets had reportedly used for cover, was shot down by an S-200 surface-to-air missile system operated by the Syrian Army. Fifteen Russian servicemen perished in the incident, which could have been avoided had Israel provided more than just one-minute warning before the attack. As a result, chaos ensued.

Whether or not there is any truth to the claim that Iran was preparing to deliver weapon-making systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon is practically a moot point based on flawed logic. Conducting an attack against an ammunition depot in Syria – in the vicinity of Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base – to protect Israel doesn’t make much sense when the consequence of such “protective measures” could have been a conflagration on the scale of World War III. That would have been an unacceptable price to achieve such a limited objective, which could have been better accomplished with the assistance of Russia, as opposed to NATO-member France, for example. In any case, there is a so-called “de-confliction system” in place between Israel and Russia designed to prevent exactly this sort of episode from occurring.

And then there is the matter of the timing of the French-Israeli incursion.

Just hours before Israeli jets pounded the suspect Syrian ammunition storehouse, Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan were in Sochi hammering out the details on a plan to reduce civilian casualties as Russian and Syrian forces plan to retake Idlib province, the last remaining terrorist stronghold in the country. The plan envisioned the creation of a demilitarized buffer zone between government and rebel forces, with observatory units to enforce the agreement. In other words, it is designed to prevent exactly what Western observers have been fretting about, and that is unnecessary ‘collateral damage.’

So what do France and Israel do after a relative peace is declared, and an effective measure for reducing casualties? The cynically attack Syria, thus exposing those same Syrian civilians to the dangers of military conflict that Western capitals proclaim to be worried about.

Israel moves to ‘damage control’

Although Israel has taken the rare move of acknowledging its involvement in the Syrian attack, even expressing “sorrow” for the loss of Russian life, it insists that Damascus should be held responsible for the tragedy. That is a highly debatable argument.

By virtue of the fact that the French and Israeli forces were teaming up to attack the territory of a sovereign nation, thus forcing Syria to respond in self-defense, it is rather obvious where ultimate blame for the downed Russian plane lies.

“The blame for the downing of the Russian plane and the deaths of its crew members lies squarely on the Israeli side,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said. “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, took admirable efforts to prevent the blame game from reaching the boiling point, telling reporters that the downing of the Russian aircraft was the result of “a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet.”

Nevertheless, following this extremely tempered and reserved remark, Putin vowed that Russia would take extra precautions to protect its troops in Syria, saying these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.”

Now there is much consternation in Israel that the IDF will soon find its freedom to conduct operations against targets in Syria greatly impaired. That’s because Russia, having just suffered a ‘friendly-fire’ incident from its own antiquated S-200 system, may now be more open to the idea of providing Syria with the more advanced S-300 air-defense system.

Earlier this year, Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement that prevented those advanced defensive weapons from being employed in the Syrian theater. That deal is now in serious jeopardy. In addition to other defensive measures, Russia could effectively create the conditions for a veritable no-fly zone across Western Syria in that it would simply become too risky for foreign aircraft to venture into the zone.

The entire situation, which certainly did not go off as planned, has forced Israel into damage control as they attempt to prevent their Russian counterparts from effectively shutting down Syria’s western border.

On Thursday, Israeli Major-General Amikam Norkin and Brigadier General Erez Maisel, as well as officers of the Intelligence and Operations directorates of the Israeli air force will pay an official visit to Moscow where they are expected to repeat their concerns of “continuous Iranian attempts to transfer strategic weapons to the Hezbollah terror organization and to establish an Iranian military presence in Syria.”

Moscow will certainly be asking their Israeli partners if it is justifiable to subject Russian servicemen to unacceptable levels of danger, up to and including death, in order to defend Israeli interests. It remains to be seen if the two sides can find, through the fog of war, an honest method for bringing an end to the Syria conflict, which would go far at relieving Israel’s concerns of Iranian influence in the region.

 

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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