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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Candidate with a Perfect Soviet Profile

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Is it possible to use the Kremlin's administrative, media and public relations resources so that an unknown such as Viktor Zubkov can be elected president in March 2008? After surprising everybody by appointing the former head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service as prime minister, President Vladimir Putin said last week that Zubkov could not be ruled out as a presidential contender.

Skeptics claim that six months is not enough time to turn a relative unknown into a real presidential candidate. One week ago, 90 percent of the public had never heard of Zubkov. It is true that former President Boris Yeltsin appointed the then-unknown Putin as prime minister in the summer of 1999, but it required a special media campaign and the wars in Dagestan and Chechnya to boost Putin's ratings.

The Kremlin today, however, has much more control over the mass media than it did under Yeltsin. Once Putin finally selects his successor, the public will be bombarded with glowing television reports showing the candidate's amazing talents and attributes. The people will become so infatuated with the man Putin selected that they will wonder how they ever got along without him.

Putin has an amazing intuitive ability to sense exactly what the public wants and needs. He has an excellent understanding of Russians' fondness for social welfare and egalitarianism as well as their relatively low appreciation of individualism and democracy.

According to a recent poll by VTsIOM, most Russians want to continue and even strengthen the Kremlin's conservative policies. Fifty-one percent are in favor of Russia "strengthening its unique identity," which often takes the form of anti-Westernism. Fifty-six percent said they supported the government taking a greater role in the economy. Only an unimpressive 30 percent of respondents supported democratization of the political system, free elections and an independent media.

Putin needs to find a presidential candidate who will cater to the public's great desire for a strong, paternalistic leader and who will show concern for the sick and poor. With his quintessential Soviet profile, Zubkov fits the bill nicely. He has a very attractive and successful "proletarian" biography: As a child he lived in a crude shack without plumbing, he raised himself up by his bootstraps, worked as a repairman and a collective farm manager.

In general, Zubkov was an exemplary "leader of the Soviet people." He harvested hay with his subordinates, pulled weeds, assigned apartments to people in need, helped out young families, was simple in speech and was not above drinking with the common folk. There was something about Zubkov reminiscent of the way companions described Yeltsin in his youth, but without the rough edges.

The next president needs to be a person who will push for a stronger state role in all spheres, especially in the fight against corruption. In addition, the public will probably want a leader who can accomplish more than Putin did in the moral sphere, specifically in the fight against alcoholism and drug abuse. The next president will probably need to take a stronger stand against what many consider to be the decadent influence of Western popular culture and the overall moral decline of young people. All of that should be accompanied by healthy patriotism as long as it doesn't escalate into nationalism.

Oh, and one more small "detail." The president's successor must maintain the status quo among the members of Putin's inner circle by leaving their current ownership and control of key assets intact. He must also make sure that the interclan battles of these moguls of state capitalism -- Russia's new oligarchs -- do not destroy the economy.

In addition, the next president must guarantee the continuation of Putin's political legacy by allowing him to maintain de facto control of the country. But it is not entirely clear exactly how Putin will achieve this.

Georgy Bovt is a Moscow-based political analyst.