Interview with Ariel Cohen
Russia Today: Why do you think Mr Putin accepted the proposal by United Russia to head the party's list?
Ariel Cohen: I was at a meeting with Mr Putin about two weeks ago at Sochi on the Black Sea. In a very quizzical way President Putin said: “I’m leaving – but I’m staying. The next President will have to negotiate with me the delineation of power.” I thought: “What can that mean?” Obviously, President Putin was inclined to play a key role in Russian politics for the foreseeable future, but this was something beyond just being a senior politician or retiree. Putin is too young and too vigorous to just retire. So, many scenarios were discussed but nobody in that group that participated in meeting Putin speculated about Putin becoming Prime Minister. I think that when we met the leaders of United Russia, they themselves did not know that Putin may head the list, because they told us that whoever heads the list is likely to be the next President. Obviously Putin is not running for presidency. So I think, Putin is staying, he is staying in a very active role, but there is one catch. And that is the Russian Constitution, which specifically says that the most powerful man in the country is the President – and that is not going to be Mr Putin.
RT: What do you make of Mr Putin's statement that suggestions he could become Prime Minister were 'entirely realistic'?
A.C.: Well, I think he is not mincing words. I think he is indicating that he is going to be Prime Minister. I also believe at this point – of course a lot of things can change between now and March – I believe that Mr Zubkov, the Prime Minister, is the front runner to be the President. But again, as I’ve said before, to quote Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister from the1960s: “A week is a long time in politics.”
RT: Mr Putin's speech comes just a little over two weeks after the appointment of Viktor Zubkov as Prime Minister. How would you describe Mr Zubkov’s future role?
A.C.: Many analysts were very surprised that Mr Zubkov became Prime Minister. After all, he was not a public politician, he is not a political player – he was behind-the-scenes operator. One of the leading Russian politicians, Sergey Ivanov, said that he – Mr Zubkov – operates “quietly and without dust,” but at this point I think Zubkov enjoys Mr Putin’s trust. I think Zubkov is part of a small and closely-knit group of people from St. Petersburg that are at the nucleus of power, at the base of power in Russia. Therefore I believe that if Mr Zubkov avoids major mistakes in the next four months, he has a good chance of becoming Prime Minister (sic) although Mr Putin has already demonstrated with Fradkov’s appointment four years ago, with Mr Zubkov’s appointment now, and with his own indication that he may become Prime Minister, that Mr Putin always has a joker in his cards.