by RAY FLEMING
WHO will succeed Vladimir Putin as president of Russia when he leaves the job in 2008? What did he mean when he said at his televised Q & A with the Russian people this week that even after his departure “with you we can influence the life of the country”. Was that the royal or Tsarist “we”? Just as with Bill Clinton in the US in 2000, many observers believe that Mr Putin would easily be re-elected for a third term if the Russian constitution permitted it. The polls show that his performance is approved of by 80 per cent of Russians and, at the moment, there is no successor on the horizon. One possible interpretation of his enigmatic remark is that he intends to leave on cue with a loyal but uncharismatic successor in his place and then return in triumph in 2012. It has to be remembered that Mr Putin appeared from nowhere to succeed Boris Yeltsin in 2000 and that the procedure for finding a Russian president appears remarkably flexible. There is a public vote, but only to endorse the choice that has been made in the corridors of the Kremlin. Another possibility might involve some sleight of hand over the relationship between the president, the prime minister and the parliament. If the respective roles of these three power centres were rebalanced it might be possible for Vladimir Putin to re-emerge with a lesser title but just as much, if not more, power.

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