Putin to become United Russia chief, cementing hold on power
Russia's president agreed today to lead the ruling party, which commands a 70 percent parliamentary majority, once he steps down next month.
Vladimir Putin put the finishing touches to his postretirement formula for retaining power in Russia Tuesday by scooping up the leadership of the country's dominant political party, a position he will hold in addition to being prime minister.Skip to next paragraph
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"I accept the invitation of the party. I am ready to take on myself the additional responsibility and head the party," Mr. Putin told delegates to the convention of the pro-Kremlin United Russia (UR) party, which controls 70 percent of the parliament's 450 seats. The 600 delegates, including many of Russia's top politicians, responded with a lengthy standing ovation.
Russian observers are deeply divided over the consequences of Putin's move, which will effectively leave Russia with two strong leaders after President-elect Dmitri Medvedev is inaugurated on May 7. Russia's historical experience with divided power has been an unhappy one, but many experts believe the close personal ties and complementary skills of Putin and Mr. Medvedev may produce a stable political synergy that will enable much-needed economic reforms and anticorruption measures.
Others warn, however, that any future strife between the two men, who represent very different generations and backgrounds, could split Russia's fractious bureaucracy and paralyze the work of government.
"This strengthens Putin's political weight as national leader," Sergei Markov, a United Russia Duma deputy, told journalists. "Dmitry Medvedev is leader of the state and of the Russian Federation, but the political leader of the country remains Putin."
'A new and dangerous situation'
Within a month, Putin will move from the Kremlin to Russia's White House, the gleaming eggshell-like building by the Moscow River that serves as the seat of government, to take up the job of prime minister. Under the country's Constitution, the prime minister is a presidential appointee, and the job has typically been filled by an unambitious technocrat. Although Putin's long-term aspirations remain an enigma, experts say he is not likely to settle easily into the role of second fiddle to the new Kremlin chief.
"This is a completely new and very dangerous situation for Russia," says Alexander Dugin, head of the nationalist Eurasia Movement. "We have two strong politicians, but all of the legitimacy lies with Putin. He has real charisma, huge popular support, his record of substantial achievements as president, and now the leadership of the main political party in the country. He will not be just another prime minister."
The new president, Medvedev, has no power base of his own and is entirely beholden to Putin's sponsorship for his ascent to the Kremlin. Yet Russia's president enjoys supreme powers under the Constitution, written by former President Boris Yeltsin after he crushed a defiant parliament with military force in 1993. Under Putin's eight-year leadership, the Kremlin greatly strengthened presidential powers by eliminating independently elected regional governors, subordinating the media, sidelining civil society groups, and ushering in a pro-Kremlin parliamentary majority.