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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Heading for Undiluted Putinism

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Someone must either have put a stick of dynamite under the chair of Alexei Kudrin this weekend, or whispered in his ear that if he says and does the right things, then he will be prime minister in President Vladimir Putin's second term.

The comments Kudrin made in Monday's Kommersant were so completely out of character that it's hard to think what else could have motivated them. The usually dry technocrat was shooting his mouth off about the end of the Byzantine Yeltsin epoch and the beginning of a brave new world. Furthermore, he was conspicuously loyal to Putin in all his comments on the Yukos affair and the oligarchs.

It is pretty clear that Kudrin was killing several birds with one stone. He was distancing himself from Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who defied Putin by expressing concern over the prosecutors' actions; he was pledging allegiance to Putin and the Putin line; and was, in a nutshell, setting out a program for the next government.

With Kasyanov's departure probably a matter of days or months, Kudrin has every right to set out his prime ministerial stall. Putin is on record as saying that Kudrin is one of his most trusted associates (along with Dmitry Medvedev, Sergei Ivanov and Nikolai Patrushev). Of these, Kudrin is the only one who is a known quantity, has an economics background and would not spook the markets. Moreover, he is generally considered to be competent, personally honest and close to the liberal elements in the Putin administration. In short, he's probably the best of what's realistically on offer.

Having said that, Kudrin's weaknesses are that he is not noted for his force of personality and is unlikely to provide a fresh impulse to reform in the face of opposition (especially opposition emanating from above).

But what would a Kudrin government mean? On the positive side, the president would be entering his second term with an unprecedented degree of unity between the president, his staff and government. This would reduce the tensions inherent in Russia's dual executive system and make a renewed reform drive a genuine possibility.

The danger, however, is that Kudrin and Medvedev would be the liberal fig leaf for an administration in which much darker forces called the shots. Both are much more likely to close their eyes to dubious goings-on than to stand up to the president. The weakness and strength of the rapidly collapsing current system has been the checks and balances provided by Alexander Voloshin and Kasyanov's comparative independence and clout.

We should now be bracing ourselves for 100 percent pure "Putinism." The only question is: What the hell will it look like?