Vladimir Putin spent yesterday attending ceremonies to remember the victims of Stalinist terror. The venue was Butovo in the southern reaches of Moscow and the Russian Federation’s president took the opportunity to speak about the values of political freedom and pluralism.
Given Putin’s reputation for “managed democracy” it would be easy to scoff at such sentiments. Indeed commentators have been falling over themselves to suggest that Putin will still contrive a third term as president, implying public rallies urging him to stay are part of a premeditated plan.
Such commentary is quick to dismiss Putin’s involvement in December’s Duma elections as a ruse. The inference is that Putin will decline his seat in Russia’s parliament and instead claim a strong result for United Russia (whose list he heads) as a mandate to change the constitution and stand once again in presidential elections.
Putin has consistently denied that he will attempt to seek a third term and it would require an astonishing about face if he were now to change his mind. Initially western commentary was quick to suggest that his candidacy for United Russia meant that the President intended to become Prime Minister and exercise power from this position.
The difficulty with this argument is that it posits the Duma playing a more pivotal role in Russian politics and correspondingly implicit is the notion that constitutionally the parliament’s status would benefit and the presidency may be weakened. Such a hypothesis sits uneasily with the assumption that every machination Putin plans is a devilish autocratic plan which will be damaging to both the west and Russia alike.