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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW610 2007-02-12 13:59 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #0610/01 0431359
P 121359Z FEB 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 000610 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2017 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reason:  1.4 (d). 
No Third Term 
1. (C) Although rumors swirl after each major public 
appearance, even diehard skeptics now agree that President 
Putin will leave office when his second term expires in May 
2008. With each passing month the conspiracy theories, which 
most recently crested in the wake of the Litvinenko 
assassination, have seemed less credible, and Putin's own 
insistence on the need to respect the larger letter of the 
Russian constitution more believable.  That the President's 
departure has become an established fact was in evidence at 
his marathon annual press conference February 1, where 
journalists probed the succession process and queried Putin 
about his plans after office, but did not entertain the idea 
that he would stay beyond 2008. 
2. (C) Skepticism about Putin's intentions has long been fed 
by the opaque nature of the succession process and the lack 
of historical precedent.  Should the status quo hold, Putin 
will be the first relatively young, healthy, and popular 
leader in Russian history to voluntarily depart office. 
Instead of engendering pride that Russia is becoming "a 
normal country," that prospect is creating anxiety among many 
who associate the end of the Putin era with the end of 
stability.  The lack of credible institutions abet that 
tendency.  Putin's intention to wait until after the December 
Duma elections before tipping his hand on a successor ensures 
that uncertainty will only grow as the year progresses. 
After Putin 
3. (C) In the year plus remaining to him, Putin must prepare 
the way for his heir apparent and carve out a niche for 
himself.  That first undertaking is to all appearances well 
under way, with a creeping consensus here that Presidential 
Administration First Deputy Dmitriy Medvedev is on a glide 
path to the presidency.  Unrelenting media exposure, his own 
public relations team, control of the high-profile National 
Projects and, with the new year, opportunities to stump for 
Russia in places like Davos, have given Medvedev the pole 
position in a race that includes Minister of Defense Sergey 
Ivanov as his chief rival.  Ivanov has not conceded the 
contest, however, and unlike Putin's departure, a Medvedev 
presidency is not a foregone conclusion. 
4. (C) Imagining a life after the presidency may be harder 
than stage-managing the succession.  In May 2008, Putin will 
leave the Kremlin and enter uncharted territory.  Boris 
Yeltsin, was ill, aged, and unpopular when he left office. 
Efforts to envision Putin as head of a state-controlled 
conglomerate or of one of the Kremlin-fostered political 
parties run aground on the belief that no Russian president, 
in a "winner take all" system, would willingly recede into 
the background. As many here have noted Russia, unlike China, 
makes no provision for an elder statesman who can exercise 
influence at a respectable distance. 
Putin in the Year Remaining 
5. (C) Putin shows all intentions of remaining in the fray 
until his 2008 departure date.  He will postpone anointing a 
successor in order to stave off the inevitable, "lame duck" 
status.  At his annual press conference, Putin bristled at 
questions about his post-presidency plans, noting that he has 
more than one year in office. And the winding down of his 
term has seen a flurry of legislative initiatives on 
long-lingering tasks --the civil code, strategic sector 
investment, the subsoil law, and even tax reform-- as he 
pushes to clear his desk before leaving office. Last fall, 
Putin listed corruption and the demographic crisis as 
problems for his successor; making it plain that he planned 
no major new initiatives on those fronts. 
6. (C) Hydrocarbon-slaked self-confidence probably makes 
Putin's Russia in the final year of his term more immune than 
usual to efforts to change its behavior.  On the other hand 
Putin, with an eye on his legacy no doubt, has seemed more 
ready to listen to worries about the climate for NGOs and to 
smooth feathers ruffled by Russia's ham-handed behavior 
abroad in 2006.  His insistence on the economic component as 
the key constituent of any bilateral relationship allowed him 
to assert --in some cases credibly, in others less so-- that 
MOSCOW 00000610  002 OF 002 
there was "nothing personal" in recent bilateral disputes. 
Still, the Kremlin is not a monolith, and as the clock ticks 
down the struggle over succession could heat up, leaving the 
Vladimir Vladimirovich too preoccupied with protecting his 
flanks to worry much about how the Putin era will go down in 


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