Putin’s Likely Victory in Russia: Will It Be Greeted With Protests?
At first it was hard to pinpoint what was missing. All the basic trappings of a presidential campaign were in place. The Olympic Stadium in Moscow was packed on Friday with supporters of one of the candidates, a young, handsome billionaire named Mikhail Prokhorov. There were pins, scarves and pamphlets embossed with his name. Children waved flags in the stadium bleachers. Journalists scampered about, trying to ask the candidate what he would do as commander-in-chief. But somewhere in the air, and on the people’s faces, hung the sense that this was all a little pointless. The results of Sunday’s presidential elections, at least according to the front runner, Vladimir Putin, had pretty much been decided several years ago.
That is what Putin told the nation on Sept. 24, when he announced that he would leave the post of Prime Minister and return to the presidency, which he already held between 2000 and 2008. “I want to say it straight out,” Putin declared that day during a congress of his political party, United Russia. “The agreement over what will be done in the future was reached between us several years ago.” He was talking about the agreement he had made with his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, who has kept Putin’s presidential seat warm for him for the past four years. They have agreed to switch places this spring, with Putin again becoming president and Medvedev becoming prime minister, in a maneuver that was dubbed by Russian pundits as the rokirovka, or castling, a move in the game of chess where the king and the rook switch places to protect the king.
Minutes later, when Putin had left the podium, Medvedev got on the stage and made an announcement that seemed out-of-sync with Putin’s — or perhaps designed to calibrate it politically. “The most important thing,” Medvedev said, playing his role as the more liberal of the two, “is that the choice always remains with… the Russian people.” And so began a six-month effort to slather the rokirovka in democratic paint.