The new Putin (or maybe, the new Medvedev)

Reuters today profiles the man it calls the brains behind the Putin campaign: Vyacheslav Volodin, currently Russia’s deputy prime minister.

The profile provides a wealth of information on Volodin, who is sure to remain a key player for the foreseeable future in Kremlin politics — the profile goes so far as to compare him to Stalin’s key aide Vyacheslav Molotov.

With Putin all but sure to win the “election” on March 4, and with the length of the presidential term extended to six years, I wouldn’t bet too many rubles on Volodin surviving the Kremlin gauntlet until 2018 (or longer). Until August 1999, no one had even heard of Vladimir Putin, who served as Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister for five uneventful months before Yeltsin announced his resignation and tacit support for Putin’s candidacy in the presidential election to follow in May 2000. So file this one alongside those speculation pieces on the 2016 US presidential race.

Although the profile raises the specter that Volodin may succeed Putin, it does not quite dispel the idea that Volodin is more “grey cardinal” apparatchik than the face of Russia’s future:

“Volodin is a clever executor, but he cannot come up with a political project of his own. It is not his strength. He can only manage somebody else’s project,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser who fell out of favor last year.

More background from the Moscow Times here.  Volodin comes from the Saratov region, in southern Russia along the Volga River. Interestingly, he got his start in national Russian politics in the “Fatherland — All Russia” party/movement alongside former Yeltsin foreign minister and prime minister (subsequently sacked) Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov.  It was thought at the time that the Primakov-Luzhkov alliance would form a significant force to succeed the Yelstin administration; by 2000, the movement had folded into alliance with the Putin-backed United Russia party.  Luzhkov served as mayor from 1992 until 2010 over a falling out with current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and besieged by charges of corruption and incompetence over Moscow’s extreme smog during the Russian wildfires of 2010.

Primakov, respected internationally despite his hawkishness (he was especially pro-Serbian), faded from public view in the Putin era, aside from a visit to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 prior to the U.S.-led operation against Saddam that followed shortly thereafter.

Volodin does have one thing going for him: he certainly meets the Лысый — волосатый (“bald-hairy”) rule of Russian power.

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