Saturday, March 17, 2007

Prospects of Presidential Election in Russia

Major powers are preparing for elections this year. The United States will have presidential election in 2008, and candidates are competing now. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair will step down this summer, and policy debate between Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Conservative Leader David Cameron will be intensified. Also, Russia will have presidential election next year, as President Vladimir Putin promised to quit his job. In “The List: Next President of Russia” on Foreign Policy web exclusive this January, Julian Evans, Analyst at the Eurasian Heritage Foundation in Moscow, comments briefly about presidential candidates to succeed Putin. Each candidate has his or her own strength and weakness.

Among presidential candidates, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov are prominent, says Evans. Medvedev is the most likely to succeed Putin, because he is popular, rich, young, and good-looking. He worked with Putin in St. Petersburg a decade ago. Western analysts see Medvedev market-friendly and pro-Western. However, he is only 41 years old, and too inexperienced for executive positions. On the other hand, another Deputy Prime Minister as well as Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is confrontational to NATO. As an ex-official of the Federal Service Bureau (formerly KGB), his administrative skill and fluency in English are outstanding. Western Diplomats, including Condoleezza Rice, respect his competence. Although not as popular as Medvedev, Ivanov may seize the opportunity when Putin feel it necessary to protect Russia from the West.

In addition, dark horses like Vladimir Yakuinin, CEO of the Russian Railways, and Valentina Matvienko, Governor of St. Petersburg, need to be paid attention. Yakuinin has KGB connections, but he is not well-known by general public. Since female leaders attract media attention these days, Matvienko could enjoy this advantage. However, her performance as the Governor of St. Petersburg and Ambassador to Malta is obscure.

Whoever wins the election next year, it is important to keep it in mind that Russia has a cycle of Peter the Great (pro-Western, enlightenmentalist) and Ivan the Terrible (nationalist, authoritarian). Whether czarist, communist, or capitalist, this cycle has been consistent throughout the history. Let me pick up some examples.

Peter the Greats:
Peter the Great, Alexander II, Nikita Khrushchev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Boris Yeltin?

Ivan the Terribles:
Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, and Vladimir Putin

This dichotomy is not always the case. Catherine the Great had both characteristics. In her early reign, she was a typical enlightened despot. However, she became an authoritarian despot later, in order to maintain the feudal order and expand the territory.

National leader election in Russia is no less important than those in the United States and Britain. Regardless of media coverage, those who have keen interest in international affairs need to keep an eye on this election. Will the next president Peter the Great or Ivan the Terrible? This is a significant question to global security and world energy problem.