Putin Now, Putin Forever

Yesterday Putin was running late to a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The reason why his limo zipped from northern Moscow to the Kremlin? As Kommersant commentator Andrei Kolesnikov reveals the President’s tardiness was because he was recording an address to the nation to be aired on 29 November on Ostankino TV.

Over the last week, Putin has been waging an aggressive political campaign for United Russia. The high point came the other day when he addressed a crowd of 5000 supporters at the Luzhniki sports stadium. He castigated the Russian opposition as “jackals” feeding off Western money (Who did he mean here? The Communists? Or does it even matter?) and promoted the UR’s commitment to economic and political stability. The state run Channel One devoted much of its news time hyping the speech.

The essence of next Thursday’s address will contain “almost nothing new” predicts Kolesnikov. In it, Putin will most likely clarify his relationship to the Party of Power, which he is still not officially a member, and continue to promote its record on stability. Most importantly, is that the address signifies the increasing attempt to portray Putin not as the President of Russia but as a candidate for United Russia. The fact that the address was recorded away from the Kremlin is symbolic of this.

But all of this reveals a possible emerging tension for Putin’s future, which as of now remains unknown. He seems to be straddling between being a politician where he represents United Russia and stand above politics as such and represent Russia as a whole. Its apparent that Putin sees himself in regard to the former. Last week on a campaign visit to Krasnoyarsk, he hit United Russia with, “The party has no stable political ideology or principles for which the overwhelming majority of members are ready to fight. … And, as a rule, being close to those in power, as United Russia is, all kind of crooks try to latch on to it, often with success.” He then went on to suggest that without him, United Russia has nothing. Brutally honest, but correct.

Then there is the effort to make Putin a “national leader”–a sort of quasi-constitutional monarch that stands above politics (Are we seeing the beginnings of an October Manifesto redux?). A kind of elder statesman who still commands a tight grip on the reigns of power and influence. His remarks in Krasnoyarsk also suggested that he seeks to stand above political parties and represent the country and its people. Citing the chronic Russian problem of the disconnect between power and people, Putin said, “So if people vote for United Russia, whose list I head up, that means that they trust me, and that means that I will have the moral right to call all those who will be in both the Duma and the government to account for implementing the decisions that have been mapped out today.”

Perhaps in next week’s address Putin will give a better idea of which he intends to be. Or would it better for his own power to straddle the two? To stand above Russian politics, while keeping a planted foot in its structures? Whatever it will be the one, the other, or a flexible combination of the two, one things for sure, Putin’s revolution will “stay the course” as they like to say in America.