Interview with Charles Kupchan
Russia Today: Why do you think Vladimir Putin has raised the possibility of his becoming Prime Minister?
Charles Kupchan: I think it is another step in a long series of measures that President Putin is taking to prepare for a smooth transition of power following the Duma elections late this year and the presidential elections early next. Everyone in Russia as well as outside assumed that Putin would continue to play an important political role after he steps down from the presidency. No one knew exactly what that role would be. Now we're getting a better sense that it may well take the form of his serving as Prime Minister and the Head of United Russia, which, especially with him at the top of the list, is poised to do particularly well in the Duma elections.
RT: Does Putin's announcement come to you as a surprise or do you think it was an obvious move on the chessboard of the Russian politics?
C.K.: Well, I think it is a surprise in a sense that we now have some details, some flesh on the bones of what Putin has in mind. People were thinking is he essentially not going to have a position, but be the puppet master, from behind the stage. Would he go to the National Security Council? Where would he position himself? It now appears, and he certainly hasn’t said that this is the path that he will follow, it now appears that he may be headed for the formal position of serving as Prime Minister. That obviously raises some important questions about how the relationship between the Prime Minister and the President will work, whether having such a strong figure as Putin as Prime Minister might undermine the office of the Presidency, which under his control has emerged as a very strong post. These are questions that will be answered once we see what happens.
RT: Putin's announcement comes just a little over two weeks after the appointment of Viktor Zubkov as Prime Minister. Is this simply his latest tactical move and what do you think the long-tem strategy is?
C.K.: It appears that it is part of a strategy to ensure that he remains the power-broker, the kingmaker, in the sense that Zubkov is a figure without his own large and powerful electoral base. Should he become President, that means that he would not have a great deal of support, a great deal of independent political authority, in the same way that someone say like Ivanov might. So what appears to be happening here is a changing of the chairs, of musical chairs, to create a situation in which Putin may move from one position to another, but may well, as he is today, remain the commanding figure in Russian politics for the foreseeable future.