Monday, 5 November 2007

Vladimir Putin: Almost There

In August I wrote a blog about Vladimir Putin (Putin – Frost in August ) Events have continued apace since then, pretty much as expected. Iran is still enjoying Russian support for its nuclear aspirations. The rumours of assassination attempts on Putin during his trip to Tehran naturally came to nothing. Since the majority of Muslims from Chechnya are Sufi and Iran is Shia, Iran has little interest in aiding the continuing insurrection against Russia in its southern provinces. (In fact I would not be at all surprised if the whole story of the murder plot originated from some Western spook house, aided and abetted by tame journalists, in an attempt to sour the cosy relationship between Moscow and Tehran.) But I digress… It is at home that Putin’s conquest of Russia is nearing completion.

As outlined in Frost in August, Vladimir Putin’s wooing of the Russian people continued apace before the elections. An excellent example of this during the pre-election phase was Putin’s appearance as guest-of-honour on broadcaster KVN’s television comedy show celebrating its 45th anniversary. Naturally Vladimir got to have a speech at the end (, an opportunity which I hope he felt was worth the wait as during most of the show he wore the fixed smile of a guest watching his hosts’ children at play and being expected to enjoy the experience. But now Putin can rest from such trifles and return to the real business of power: the elections for the lower house of parliament, the Duma, which started this week.

Being as cautious and methodical as always, the Kremlin has restricted the number of observers from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) from 450 in 2003 to “up to seventy people” for the December elections. Putin has also endorsed his party, United Russia, and put into place this year Viktor Zubkov as current Prime Minister. Zubkov is expected to run for the presidency following Putin’s mandatory retirement from the role in March next year. Should Zubkov win (and I don’t think anybody would bet against that), Putin is expected to take the role of Prime Minister.

From there, I reckon it could go in two directions. The current plan in the media is that Putin would be able to stand in the presidential elections for 2012. There is another option though. Under many states, the role of President is one of figurehead, wielding no actual power (the ex-Soviet Union was one such state for example). It may be that the constitution will be changed, in the name of democracy naturally, devolving much of the current presidential role down to the Duma and its prime minister, which would happen to be one V. Putin.

Now the name of this article is “Vladimir Putin: Almost There.” All these parliamentary manoeuvres are as naught compared to what is happening in the country-at-large. First of all, a law has been passed for the compulsory teaching of religion at all schools. The religion of choice and of nation is Russian Orthodoxy. This form of Christianity is rather illiberal (especially on women: long skirts, headscarves etc) and the usual Sunday service (although they are rather beautiful) is in the order of three hours long; standing only. This isn’t the problem though. In the past Russian Orthodoxy has been totally loyal to the regime of the Tsars, with the same level of loyalty being expected from United Russia. Other forms of worship are being actively discouraged if not suppressed. The second factor is coming from the Russian people themselves. They have stopped talking politics on the telephone. Discussions are starting to be limited to small groups in individuals’ homes.

The transition to totalitarian state is almost complete. Almost there, Vladimir, almost there….

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