Russia's President Putin said he would become prime minister if his choice candidate Dmitry Medvedev wins the presidential election. But DW's Ingo Mannteufel says he can't see Putin taking orders as second-in-command.
At first glance, everything seems quite simple: Vladimir Putin's presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev becomes his successor and Putin then stays in power as Medvedev's prime minister.
It is not unthinkable that the Medvedev-Putin team could be governing Russia as of summer 2008. But if we take a closer look, some loopholes become evident in the scenario.
Let us first imagine the following situation? Prime Minister Putin goes to the Kremlin each morning to report to President Medvedev and give an account of the success or even failure of national projects?
Would President Medvedev then praise his predecessor and fatherly friend Putin or correct him when he's made a big mistake? In the best case, this scenario resembles a grandiose satire. In the worst case, President Medvedev would destroy the myth of Putin as "national leader".
It is difficult to imagine Putin working as prime minister under his protégé, at least if the current division of power between the president and the prime minister in Russia remains the same. Putin should know this better than anyone.
Medvedev needs Putin
Putin's intention of becoming prime minister under Medvedev should not be seen right now as the final outcome. There are other, more pressing reasons for Putin announcing this plan since he has only one goal in mind that he wants reached by March 2: Dmitry Medvedev should become Russia's next president.
Even with the propaganda machine in full gear and all the administrative resources at work, Medvedev still needs all the help he can get from Putin. This is why Putin has said he wants to become prime minister under Medvedev as president.
Just as the Kremlin party United Russia won the Duma elections with Putin as their top candidate, the bland and relatively unknown Medvedev is to win the presidential election with Putin as his premier. Similarly, the upcoming presidential election can be turned into a referendum on Putin, even if he doesn't officially run, fitting the motto "Elect Medvedev and keep Putin."
Other power struggles
However, Putin's support for Medvedev isn't just a sign to the population and Russian voters. The scenario of Medvedev as president and Putin as prime minister is also a signal to the members of the Kremlin who do not fully back Medvedev.
It's a widely accepted rumor that there have been and still are some forces among the Kremlin elite who want Putin to stay on as president. They're afraid of losing their power -- and access to the country's coffers -- should Medvedev take on the presidency.
Putin has sent a clear signal to Medvedev's powerful opponents, who are at least theoretically capable of fabricating and spreading compromising material about the presidential candidate. After all, Putin will stay in power if only as prime minister.
At the moment, the possibility cannot be excluded that Putin will become Russia's prime minister under Medvedev but neither is a done deal. The real decision will not be made in the Kremlin until after March 2.
Until then, the next act in this political drama is Medvedev's election as president -- at any cost.
Ingo Mannteufel is the director of Deutsche Welle's Russian online department DW-WORLD.DE/Russian. (kjb)