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Putin's Magic Tricks

September 13, 2007

DW's Cornelia Rabitz says that the Russian president's decision to change the government is completely in line with his leadership style. But it's not good news for democracy in the country, she adds.

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Viktor Zubkov's the name of the rabbit that Russian President Vladmir Putin pulled out of his hat. As is customary for such magic tricks, the public is surprised, says "Oh" and "Ah" -- and marvels. Who is this Zubkov? Not much is known about him. He's a finance expert, a Putin confidant from the old days in St. Petersburg. He's an inconspicuous guy in the second row. A dark horse.

Cornelia Rabitz
Cornelia Rabitz

Maybe that's not even so important. What is important is that Putin has shown people the ropes once again. He's a politician who likes to present the public with riddles, who throws smoke grenades, who acts in secret and surprises people, showing the world that there's only one person pulling the strings in Russian domestic politics. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin -- the president with a KGB past.

His second and last term in office will be over in March 2008, but people will have to continue to include him in the equation. He's still far from being out of breath. Putin is already setting the course for the time after his departure. Nothing's meant to go wrong.

By nominating the bland Zubkov, the Russian president has shown once again what kind of person he deems capable of leading a country that's shaped by big economic successes and political problems: It's either secret intelligence people with dubious pasts or technocrats, apolitical, dry figures, who are experts for something -- agriculture, military or finance. He just doesn't want experienced, charismatic and democratically legitimated politicians who care about more than taking care of business. Putin banks on apolitical politicians.

With a bit of good will, it's possible to write off the events in Moscow as "normal procedure." Of course, outside Russia, the reasons for a change of government seem odd. Do you swap out a cabinet when elections are coming up? Putin said that, ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, the government should be ready to prepare the country for changes that are bound to happen.

The power structure has to be refreshed, he said. That's strange: If things happen in a democratic, free and fair way, a government faces the vote of the people and the population judges the accomplishments of the country's leading elite, reconfirms it or votes it out of office.

But Russia's pre-election time seems to be a time for political intrigues, tricks and deception. That bodes ill.

Cornelia Rabitz heads DW-RADIO's Russian service. (win)