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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Battle for the Great Ring of Power

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It is well known that President Vladimir Putin dislikes making decisions. He tends to put them off, but when he does finally make one, he is almost always on the mark. His appointment of a new prime minister is an excellent example of this.

When Putin gave Mikhail Fradkov the pink slip, those who were banking on the "third-term scenario," under which Fradkov would be the compliant, figure-head president while Putin would rule from the sidelines, started to panic. But these worries were for naught because Putin named a Fradkov clone as the new prime minister -- fellow St. Petersburger Viktor Zubkov.

But Putin's appointment is not really a decision. It is just a way to buy time to avoid making the tough choices. After all, the question is not who will become prime minister, but who will become president.

There is a lot of talk about the "third-term party," most closely associated with Kremlin deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin, Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev and Kremlin adviser Viktor Ivanov. But they are not really Putin loyalists. They don't value Putin nearly as much as they value the wealth they earned under Putin's administration. It is not so important for them that Putin sits in the Kremlin as it is that former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky sits in prison.

Therefore, Putin does not command a group of devoted vassals who are willing to meddle with the Constitution and to lay their political fortunes on the line so that their beloved Vladimir Vladimirovich can continue his reign. Instead, we have a group of lackeys and boot lickers who never for a moment forget on what side their bread is buttered.

In theory, Putin has three options.

First, he could leave office at the end of his term in 2008. The advantage here is that Putin would go out as the victor. Had Louis-Napoleon chosen the right moment to step down as leader of the French Republic, he would be a national hero today. But he chose to continue as Napoleon III, and was captured at the Battle of Sedan. Another Sedan may very well be in our cards if there is a sharp drop in world oil prices or a rebellion in the Caucasus.

The second option is to remain in office, but this would turn into another type of Sedan. It would mean no more fishing trips with the U.S. president, since Putin would become an international outcast.

The third option is to leave in 2008 with the intention of returning to office shortly thereafter. In theory, Putin could accomplish this by planting a puppet successor in the Kremlin who would enact constitutional changes one or two years from now to extend the presidential term to five to seven years. According to this scenario, new elections would be held, and this would allow Putin to return as president. The problem with this scenario is that in the modern-day Mordor that is Moscow, it is difficult to choose the right, trustworthy Orc who would agree to return the Great Ring of Power after only one or two years as president. Putin should know that no Russian president can afford to walk away from the throne for even a minute because it would be grabbed in the blink of an eye.

Putin's problem is simple: He needs an honest, trustworthy and compliant person to whom he can temporarily grant presidential powers. But there are no such Orcs in the president's circle, and with no good choices available, any decision he makes is bound to be a bad one.

As Russia turns into a Mordor and as the nation's riches are divvied up among the Orcs in the president's inner circle, all of the decisions made by the president, who promised to relinquish the Great Ring of Power, will turn out to be bad ones.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.