Putin to Head United Russia Party

feature photo

President Vladimir Putin has accepted an offer from the pro-Kremlin United Russia (UR) party to become its leader and chairman. Experts believe that Putin, who is set step down in early May to the post of prime-minister, may be gathering power and attempting to restructure the nature of the Russian political system.

The 55-year old Putin announced his decision to lead the party at an April 15th party congress broadcast on national television. He had previously abstained from joining any political party, preferring to remain separate from a political system widely seen as corrupt and ineffectual by the Russian public. He was approved by a unanimous vote.

In December 2007, Putin ran on the United Russia’s party ticket during Russia’s parliamentary elections, putting his support behind the party without becoming a member. This time, he has once again agreed to lead the party without actually joining its ranks.

The United Russia party was apparently preparing for the step, and a new post created specifically for Putin was introduced earlier this week.

Dmitri Medvedev, who was also at the congress and will succeed Putin as president, declined to join the party, but added that Putin’s transition to party leader was natural.

There has been some buzz in the Russian media that new powers were being transferred to the office of the prime minister in anticipation of Putin’s arrival. Such a system, where the president has power only on paper and the real authority lies elsewhere, has been compared with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where a General Secretary superseded the titular head of state.

Kremlin-friendly analyst Sergei Markov explained that the outgoing president “is preserving his independence.”

“He strengthens his role as national leader,” he told the German Deutsche Welle newspaper. “Medvedev will be president, but the political leader of the country remains Putin.”

“The role of party chairman will allow Putin to control elections,” said Yevgeny Minchenko, the director of the International Institute of Political Analysis. “Putin has collected a colossal resource of influence over local elites,” he told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

“Any decision he carries out in connection with one or another regional official who is a UR member, will amount to an immediate signal to the siloviki [(officials with a background in the military or security services)], who can ‘take care of’ anyone.”

Other analysts noted that heading the party provides Putin with immense legislative power, including potential impeachment of the president.

The Associated Press quoted Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Moscow-based Mercator Group: “Putin will maintain a firm and effective mechanism of control over Medvedev. In fact, Putin is trying to keep all the administrative resources in his hands.”

Garry Kasparov, the leader of the United Civil Front, questioned what Putin’s move would mean for Russia:

Speaking of today’s events… from the point of view of politics is the same as speaking with eunuchs about sex. In today’s Russia, the highest command has restored not just the manner of the Byzantine court, but simply of a harem’s relationships. That being said, one should remember that Abdullah, when it came time to leave, could easily cast away this harem. If Putin does in fact have plans for Constitutional reforms and the transformation of Russia into a Parliamentary republic, then he hasn’t brought Medvedev into the loop. Although I think that neither Medvedev nor Putin know a clear scenario. In Russia today, a soft one-party dictatorship has finally set in, as it was during the socialist era in Yugoslavia or the GDR [German Democratic Republic – East Germany]. Of course, limiting the office of the president, and transferring political capital to the Parliament are correct things that I personally support—in theory. However, all this must not be the result of the shake-down of the “harem” or a government takeover, but a nation-wide choice. Speculating on the correct political divisions with the goal of maintaining stability for the dictatorial regime has no relation to democracy.