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Who Will Be Russia’s Next Frighteningly Intense President?

Victor Zubkov In a surprise move today, Russian President Vladimir Putin nominated a largely unknown cabinet official, Victor Zubkov, for the post of prime minister, replacing Mikhail Fradkov, who resigned this week. The nomination is bound to prompt speculation and curiosity, as the end of Putin’s reign nears and he will likely groom a successor.

In Russian politics, the concept of vlast, or “right to power”, is important in choosing a leader, as it is a nearly mystical quality that instills a sense of awe and humility in the populace. Putin rose to power largely because he was handpicked as the next president by Boris Yeltsin. Such is the power of vlast that despite Yeltsin’s single-digit approval ratings, the mere blessing of the current president was enough to secure the rise of his chosen successor.

Now as Putin, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, prepares to exit the Kremlin, his choice of a successor will be closely watched. Due to Putin’s wild popularity, whoever he chooses will likely coast into the presidency with ease. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s comrade from the FSB (the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB), has long been looked upon as a frontrunner. Dmitry Medvedev, another Deputy Prime Minister, is also considered a likely choice.

It is largely considered unlikely that Zubkov, a 65-yearp-old Ministry of Finance official and a colleague of Putin’s during the early 90’s when the two worked in the office of St. Petersburg’s mayor, will ascend to the presidency. However, Putin is known for surprises, and was himself a surprise choice for president after he was plucked from obscurity in the late 90’s and appointed to head the FSB. Given the cloak-and-dagger nature of Russian politics, where alliances are often forged behind closed doors and fractured coalitions, false arrests, and contract killings are business as usual, who knows what Putin has planned. One thing that is almost certain is that whoever is chosen will probably not do much to warm the increasingly chilly relations between Russia and the West.