A Troubling Pattern With 'Premier Putin'

Dmitry Medvedev's announcement that President Vladimir Putin would be his choice for prime minister if he became president should have surprised no one. At the beginning of October, Putin himself said the idea of becoming prime minister was "entirely realistic." The stage was set. In a broader sense, the development is no surprise because it adheres to the Kremlin's record of ignoring the form and spirit of Russia's tentative democratic system to serve its own prerogatives.

Putin inherited from Boris Yeltsin what has been aptly described as a "superpresidential" Constitution, providing the president with the lion's share of power.

Putin has since demonstrated that he did not think that was enough. Some cases in point:

• Putin has assumed the power to appoint and dismiss governors -- and to dissolve regional legislatures if they disagree with his choice of governors. Regional budgetary powers and resources have been reduced to the point that, even if the regions could make their own decisions, they would have difficulty funding them. The concept of federalism has been undermined so much that it seems ludicrous to continue using the term.

• The State Duma has been reduced to a mere rubber stamp wielded by the Kremlin. Putin's administration has stifled real input from the legislative branch by creating pocket parties to undermine opposition support, altering election laws to make it more difficult for opposition parties to win seats, and using its own resources to provide its favorites with every advantage.

• Despite insisting on the need for a strong party system, Putin has turned the "party of power," United Russia, into the "party of Putin." The importance of parties is so low that Putin did not even have to join one to become United Russia's only national candidate for the Duma elections.

• The Kremlin has managed to subvert the media's ability to act as a monitor and check on state power by taking over the national television channels and passing laws that use the guise of fighting extremism to clamp down on the coverage of other media outlets.

The list could go on. Putin and his Kremlin have changed the content of the country's political system to the point that the way it operates in practice bears little resemblance to its written, constitutional form.

Turning the prime minister's office into a vehicle allowing him to continue to exert this control would be true to form. Despite the lip service Putin has paid to observing both the letter and spirit of the law, Putin has spent the last eight years managing democracy to bolster and defend the prerogatives of his own power.