Kremlin plots to secure Putin a third term
London Telegraph | August 24, 2005
Kremlin loyalists across Russia have begun a concerted campaign to rewrite the country's constitution to allow President Vladimir Putin to serve a third term.
The initiative is likely to cause alarm in the West where there is growing concern at the Kremlin's assault on democracy.
The catalyst for the enthusiasm for ending the ban on a president serving more than two terms was a recent remark Mr Putin made in Finland. The president, in power since 2000, had always been categorical that he would not stand again.
But on this occasion he was coy. "Perhaps I might want to," he said. "But the country's constitution doesn't allow it."
Kremlin officials were quick to take the hint, drawing up four separate proposals to amend the blocking clauses.
The most recent backing for the idea came from Leonid Markelov, the president of the obscure semi-autonomous republic of Mari El. The fact that senior regional officials are now chosen by Mr Putin, rather than elected, may or may not have influenced Mr Markelov's position.
Although the Kremlin still insists Mr Putin has no ambitions to serve beyond the end of his second term in 2008, independent analysts say his allies have long been plotting to keep their man in power.
"He has experienced very strong, recently almost overt, pressure from his retinue and my conclusion is that their efforts have been rewarded - Putin has decided to stay," said Andrei Piontkowsky, the director of Moscow's Strategic Studies Centre.
The main factor deterring Mr Putin from changing the constitution is the fear of the likely cool response from the West. The strategy could easily be compared with that of Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, described by President George W Bush as "the last dictatorship in Europe".
Despite his nostalgia for the Soviet Union and deference to Russia, Mr Lukashenko has long resisted any practical moves to reunify with Russia.
But he could be persuaded to change his mind to escape the prospect of a revolution similiar to those in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia. Mr Putin could then become president of a joint federation of Russia and Belarus with at least an air of legitimacy.
Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the think-tank Mercator, said: "Unification would be accompanied by an upsurge of patriotism in Russia, the idea being extremely popular.