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Monday, May 19, 2008

Putin's Neo-Soviet Star Chamber

Reuters reports that Vladimir Putin has created a star chamber government-within-a-government, granting himself yet more dictatorial powers and further clenching his fist around the nation's throat. Remember how some Russophile bastards told you he was going to resign this year and move out of government, maybe to a cushy job at Gazprom, because he was such a statesman? Well, they were lying to you. Maybe now is the time to call them to account?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has created an inner cabinet of key ministers that will meet weekly, further strengthening his grip over Russia's levers of power.

The new forum mimics a format used by Putin as president before he handed over the Kremlin to his close ally Dmitry Medvedev last week. "The full government is a rather big body," Putin's chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. "That is why it was decided to set up a managerial staff that can handle certain issues without the need to summon the full cabinet."

Medvedev could in theory choose to attend the meetings of Putin's inner circle, but Peskov said he would not do so: "This is a purely governmental body which does not provide for participation by the president."
Putin said on Thursday that the new format would make the government more efficient. He called it a "presidium" - a term used in the Soviet era to describe the top legislative body.

Putin's inner circle consists of his two first deputy premiers, five deputy premiers and seven other key ministers including the foreign and defence ministers, who under Russia's constitution report directly to the president.

Peskov denied suggestions that the move was an attempt to wrest power from Medvedev.

"Of course these ministers report directly to the president, who defines the general line in the foreign and defence policies," he said. "But the implementation of these strategies and some tactical issues are handled by the cabinet." In the eight years of Putin's presidency, his Kremlin was the unchallenged centre of power where national strategy was drafted.

Prime ministers and their cabinets were reduced to carrying out the Kremlin's will at their weekly meetings.

But the tables have been turned since Putin, who remains Russia's most popular politician after presiding over years of economic growth, propelled Medvedev into the presidency.

Some analysts suggested that the move could also help Putin escape public criticism if things go wrong.

As president, Putin often used the government as a lightning rod in times of trouble, such as the failure of a pension reform plan two years ago.

"The new presidium is a safety cushion between Putin and his government," Alexei Mukhin, the head of the independent think-tank Centre for Political Information, told Reuters.

"If things go wrong, Putin can now take to task a member of the presidium who is in charge of a specific issue."

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