Russian President Vladimir Putin this week said he might return as prime minister after he steps down, as required, at the end of his second term in March. The news sent Russian stocks soaring to record levels, as investors took the statement as a welcome sign of political stability. But diplomats urged Putin to reconsider.
The “sorry news” is that Putin’s power play “surprises no one,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Since this former KGB spy came to power eight years ago, he has launched a war against the breakaway province of Chechnya, meddled in the politics of Russia’s neighbors by cutting off their oil and natural gas, and tried to steal elections in Ukraine. He is “ransacking” hopes for “post-Soviet Russian democracy” and “reviving” authoritarianism, and “the world's democracies need to prepare for its consequences.”
At least diplomats and Kremlinologists don’t have to worry about the transition any more, said The Washington Post in an editorial. “There probably won’t be one.” Putin will head the United Russia slate in parliamentary elections, and that should be enough to win a “capture a large majority,” making him prime minister. Every Russian knows that the next president will be hand-picked by Putin—the new “Czar.” But “Putin might regret it.” The world is evolving, and “leaving strong men behind.”
“In a functioning democracy,” said the Rocky Mountain News in an editorial, “such a nakedly transparent grab at staying in power would likely cause an aroused electorate to vote the offenders out of office. But not in Russia.” Putin can surely pull this off. He’s “indisputably popular,” as the economy and Russia’s influence have grown on his watch. He also has “neutered” the political opposition. But just because he can hold onto power, “doesn't mean he should.”
While Putin was taking a step backward, said The Boston Globe in an editorial, Ukraine was pointing the way to the future. Pro-Russian and pro-West politicians split the vote in “competitive elections. Tensions will remain, and Ukraine still has its “own oligarchs who buy political favors,” and “uncompetitive” industries. “But Ukrainians, unlike Russians, have a free press and the right to change their rulers at the ballot box. Ukraine is moving toward Europe.”