Monday, May 5, 2008

Vlad the Dick from St. Petersburg

After eight years as the quasi-dictator/President of The Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin is "retiring" this year, but not entirely, of course.

Non-Presidential Putin Shifting to be Russia's Cheney

by Kester Kenn Klomegah

(IPS) MOSCOW -- In his last days as President, Vladimir Putin has prepared to bring federal representatives under control of the cabinet in an effort to influence policy after he takes over as Prime Minister.

Putin, constitutionally barred from yet another term as president, will be Prime Minister after Dmitry Medvedev is sworn in as President May 7. His new position as head of parliamentary government will set up new power equations in Russia.

Putin had introduced envoys to the federal administrative districts -- seven vast areas comprising several regions each -- at the start of his presidency in order to strengthen Moscow's control over the regions amid post-Soviet chaos.

Under the current arrangement, the president appoints representatives in all seven federal districts, who are answerable directly to the appointing authority. They carry out the Kremlin's directives.

A presidential envoy supervises at least ten regional governors. The seven districts cover 89 administrative regions.

In taking control of these envoys, "Putin will tremendously increase his power vis-a-vis President Medvedev," Yevgeny Volk, researcher in politics at the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, a non-profit think tank, told IPS. "Putin will control not only regional economic development, but the political sphere as well. Presidential envoys possess a vast bureaucratic structure that incorporates the power agencies (such as the police, the prosecutor-general offices, and the federal security service).

"This will constitute Putin's power base, and could help him immensely if he decides to run for presidency again. It is also a strong safeguard against Medvedev to become too independent and ambitious."

The federal structure was instituted in order to limit the independence of the local governors, Volk said. "Now that they are no more elected, and all of them are appointed by the Kremlin, they are completely loyal. Putin wants this to further serve his interests. He needs to survive and win the next election. Thus he will tend to bring his people to every key position, and prevent Medvedev from acquiring too much power."

Volk said this would likely become a source of tension between Putin and Medvedev.

Under the constitution, the cabinet is dissolved the day of the president's inauguration. The new president has two weeks to put forward a candidate for the post of prime minister. The newly appointed premier then has a week to form a new government.

But the government is expected to move fast with the changes. Medvedev will be sworn in May 7. The next day, Putin is set to receive overwhelming endorsement by the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliamentarians, where the pro-Kremlin United Party holds about two-thirds majority. That would make Putin prime minister, as leader of the majority party.

United Russia is a strongly bureaucratic party that was designed for Russia's officialdom in the likeness of the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). At the last party congress Apr. 14-15 the party announced a new position of chairman, created for Putin. That post allows him to retain key powers when he becomes premier.

"I do not believe it is sensible for a head of state, wherever his political affiliations are, to lead a party," Putin said at the congress. "As for the chairman of the government (prime minister), a situation in which the head of the executive branch leads a party, it is a civilized and natural practice that is traditional for democratic states."

Putin has said repeatedly there will be no power-sharing disputes with the new president. Both Putin and Medvedev have said they will work in tandem.

Not everyone is convinced. "The model of power is still unclear. There is an attempt on the part of Putin's team to make the PM office the key pillar and the decision-making center," Prof. Lilia Shevtsova from Moscow's Carnegie Center told IPS. "Putin's rhetoric, most often, does not reveal his true intentions."

Sadly, in line with so many male politicians these days, Vladimir may have another motivation for his pseudo-retirement.

Putin dismisses report of romantic link to Olympic gymnast

By C.J. Chivers

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin, who during eight years of centralized rule has kept his private life largely sealed from view behind the Kremlin's walls, on Friday bluntly dismissed rumors that he had secretly divorced his wife for the affections of a gymnast less than half of his age.

The moment, prompted by a question from a Russian journalist while Putin held a news conference at an Italian villa with Silvio Berlusconi, was met with the mix of relish and confrontation that Putin has often displayed in his sessions with journalists.

He paused and answered another question, and then returned to the subject and pushed back. "What you are saying has not a single word of truth," he said.

The question had followed the publication Thursday of an unusual article in Moskovsky Korrespondent, a Moscow newspaper owned by a former Soviet intelligence officer, that said that Putin, 56, planned to marry Alina Kabayeva, 24, an Olympic gold medalist who has been voted in polls as one of Russia's most beautiful women.

Putin has been married to Lyudmila Putin since July 1983 - two months before Kabayeva was born. The couple has two grown daughters, but the Putins are not often seen together in public, which has long fueled rumors that Russia's president has had a wandering eye.

Kabayeva has been a member of Parliament since she was selected for a seat late last year by United Russia, the political party that Putin controls. She has not spoken publicly since the article appeared Thursday and its claims were picked up and circulated by newspapers and Web sites in Russia and beyond.

Her spokeswoman threatened legal action against Moskovsky Korrespondent if it did not run a correction.

After denying the article's contents, Putin complimented Russian women, calling them the "most talented and beautiful" and adding that they could only be challenged by the women of Italy.

He then ruminated briefly on the limits of privacy in public life - a condition that he suggested was true even in the climate of limited civic discourse in Russia, which Putin himself has done much to produce.

"Society has the right to know how public figures live," he said. "But even in this case, there is a limit: private life, which no one has the right to trespass."

He added, in familiar form, "I have always disliked those who, with their infected noses and erotic fantasies, break into other people's private affairs."

Whether the story's underlying assertion - that Putin was romantically involved with Kabayeva - would stand was not clear. But even the owner of the newspaper, Aleksandr Lebedev, distanced himself from it.

Lebedev wrote a follow-up item in the paper Friday, saying he had been away fishing, and without phone communication, when the original article was prepared and published. Upon his return to Moscow, he said, he had concluded the story was false.

"I do not like when journalists pull sensations out of thin air," he wrote. "Everything that is written there falls into this category."

He called the report "nonsense," and said it was based on a source he described as the "OGS news agency." Those initials, he said, stood for "one granny said."

Television viewers were spared the speculation, the denial and the back-pedaling.

The evening news broadcast on the state-influenced NTV television station did not cover the rumor or Putin's remarks. Instead, it devoted extensive coverage to Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow's irrepressible mayor, visiting a factory that makes fertilizer from cow manure.

Welcome to Europe's new Dick Cheney. When not killing off errant reporters and ex-FSB agents, he is colluding with women young enough to be his granddaughter. You have to give Vlad credit for one thing, though. He knows how to deflect a critic.

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