Snow is falling heavily over Moscow this Sunday morning. There are white caps on the golden cupolas of the Kremlin churches and palaces.
Within the ringways it’s still last weeks personel changes in the government and the Kremlin that is the subject of conversation number one. Everything is judged as part of the preparations for the 2008 presidential elections and the transition then from the present Putin period to some other period.
It is now taken for granted that Vladimir Putin will in fact respect the provisions of the constitution and step down after two periods and ten years in the office. But it is equally taken for granted not only that he will control the succession but that he would also seek to be in some sort of control thereafter.
To remain in control can be done in different ways. Present speculation seems to be centered on him building up the existing United Russia political party into a more coherent group that establishes a virtual monopoly and then de facto rules the state institutions in a way reminiscent of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Putin would then exercise power as head of this political force. And he could well combine that with occupying a lucrative and powerful position as, for example, chairman of the board of the gas and energy giant Gazprom. He would then be in control of the source of money and the source of political power in the country.
Who would then move into the position of power in the Kremlin?
It’s probably too early to tell. But it certainly looks as if the field of candidates now consists of Dmitry Medvedev, Sergey Ivanov and Sergej Sobjanin.
The big move of last week was the move of Medvedev from his past position as Chief of Staff of the Kremlin to the new one as First Deputy Prime Minister. At the same time, Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov was accorded the additional function of Deputy Prime Minister, thus elevating him, and the regional givernor from Tuymen province Sergej Sobjanin was made Kremlin Chief of Staff.
People who know says that Medvedev is now convinced that everything is pointing to him as the man who at some time will be appointed Prime Minister and from that position, very much as once happened with Vladimir Putin, will be put forward as the candidate of power at the 2008 election. Presently Chairman of the Gazprom board, he will then hand over that position to Vladimir Putin.
But it’s too early to be certain of that. The one who’s in the lead too early only seldom makes it all the way to the finish of the race. And it’s obvious that Sergey Ivanov is still very much in the race with his impeccable security credentials, as well as that Sobjanin might well emerge as a skilled political contender.
He’s the only one of the three ever having been elected to anything – to the extent that such things still matter in Russia – and has evidently proven to be a rather popular and competent governor of the oil-rich and important Tuymen region.
It’s in all probability still an open race – but it is a race, although within a very confined circle.
Kremlinology is back in business – it’s succession within the heavily restricted political system of Russia of today.