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Don’t Believe the Hype

putin1203.jpgAn op/ed in the Times of London argues that Putin is in danger of believing his own publicity: If he is sincere in ruling out the constitutional amendment that would allow him a third term, he has two options: to install a puppet such as his current Prime Minister as president when his term expires next March, then return to the presidency himself in four years’ time (or earlier, should the prime minister “fall ill”); or to emasculate the presidency and transfer its powers to another post created for him. Either scenario presents an immediate danger to the wider world. Mr Putin is already at the centre of a depressingly Soviet personality cult that allows no parliamentary oversight and little private criticism of his judgment on vital international questions, such as the future of Kosovo and how to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The longer he remains in power in such circumstances, the more isolated and ill-advised he his likely to become. In the meantime, what remains of Russia’s political culture will continue to atrophy, so that when the need for change becomes acute the chances of a smooth transition will be remote. That moment could come sooner than most people think. Mr Putin must use his popularity to change the country for the better, not to indulge his personal tastes or his personnel. Power will flow to his anointed successor, but whether the Putinites are more than just a strange phase or lead Russia into the 21st century will be determined in the next few years.