Once upon a time, many years ago (actually, it was April 2006), I participated in a debate on Russia’s energy empire organized by The Economist and The Stockholm Network along with Sebestyn Gorka, Prof. Margot Light, and Dr. Vlad Sobell. I recall that Prof. Light and Dr. Sobell were assigned the challenge of defending Vladimir Putin’s energy policy at the time, and they did so with admirable tact and sharp arguments.
I was surprised to Dr. Sobell’s name pop up again recently in The Moscow Times under different circumstances, as he appears to be one of the Putin supporters that disagrees with his decision to return to the presidency. Excerpt below:
But while I understand all of this, I cannot endorse Putin’s decision and now find myself a reluctant critic. Putin had an historic opportunity to consolidate his achievements of the past decade. This would have meant choosing the course of action most likely to ensure the continued existence of the stronger, more stable state in whose creation he has been so instrumental — namely, making way for a successor whose credibility and authority derive solely and directly from the Constitution.
By not doing so, Putin has committed two potentially fatal errors. First, he has shown disregard for something that he has claimed consistently to hold most dear — namely, rule of law. While admittedly he has not violated the letter of the Constitution — neither four years ago when he became prime minister while remaining de facto supreme leader, nor now by returning to the Kremlin for a third term as president — he has violated its spirit.
Rule of law is an absolute value. No one in authority can choose to accept, reject or manipulate it to his own advantage. If he does, he compromises that value, almost certainly beyond repair. This is the sorry precedent Putin has established for all future leaders of Russia and the unfortunate example he has set to Russian officialdom.