November 7, 2007 Ninety years since the end of the 300+ year long reign of the Imperial Romanov dynasty. With Presidential elections looming in March the "outgoing" President Putin continues to act very much as one not about to leave power, but what is he really up to?
The world was mystified, a couple of months ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the Prime Minister and replaced him with the little known Viktor Zubkov instead of the "expected" Sergei Ivanov (current Deputy Prime Minister and "leading candidate" to replace Putin as President in 2008). The Toronto Star newspaper, in an article titled "PUTIN'S MYSTERIOUS MANEUVERS" , asks if the President of Russia has "abandoned the scripted succession , embarking on a new scheme altogether".
The current Russian Constitution forbids a President from more than two successive terms as President. There was no doubt that Putin had the political power to amend the Constitution to change this. He simply decided not to do so and a normal change to the Constitution is not possible in the remaining time before Presidential elections next Spring. The thing is, Putin does not act like a man willing to leave the most powerful office in his nation. There is much speculation that he is appointing the 66 year old financial regulator as Prime Minister with the intention of running him as President as an interim place holder for Putin (with Putin returning to the Presidency in four years) , as he seems to have "no apparent political ambition". Funny, that is similar to what was said of Putin himself, when Yeltsin appointed him Prime Minister and effectively turned over the Presidency itself to him later. Vladimir Putin is well aware that he cannot hold onto the reins of real power, and be sure of maintaining that power, if he leaves office.
So just what is he up to? To understand his strategy we need to look at the man and his long term intentions for his beloved Russia. He is Russian to his very bones; and Russians are very "Russian" and suspicious of all foreigners. Public museums that charge admission in Russia, have two prices, one for foreigners and another for Russians. As someone who had a Russian girlfriend for a while, and got to see a personal side of Russia I can tell you that I have never been in a nation that was so focused on its identify and one that views all non-citizens as suspicious outsiders. To Russians, the world is divided up between Russians and "foreigners".
Putin has made it very clear that in his opinion the brake-up of the Soviet Union was a very great historical tragedy. The twin centers of the Russian soul throughout many hundreds years of its history was Orthodoxy and the Tsars. The Soviet Revolution overthrew the Romanov Dynasty and as much as possible, sought to destroy the ancient Orthodox faith of the Russian people. Vladimir Putin has been a very strong supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church, and any traveling in Russia will show one just how significant the re-flowering of the ancient faith is. The old Imperial Family is well respected in Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church has made saints out of the last Tsar and his murdered family. However, there is no great demand for an Imperial Restoration. Putin himself is the one most admired in polls of the Russian people.
So why would Vladimir Putin want to bring back the Romanovs, if only in a ceremonial Head of State role? Belarus and the Ukraine are two reasons, as are various other now separated republics of the former Soviet Union. When Yeltsin buried the Soviet Union, the leaders of the various major republics in the old USSR took the opportunities presented to them and took full power for themselves within their republics. It is easy to turn a aquarium into fish soup but very hard to turn that fish soup back into an aquarium. Putin seeks to restore Russia to its proper power and place among nations. One of the central problems in doing this is to get the various former parts of the old Russian Empire/USSR to agree to come back fully into Russia's tent. Even Belarus, the republic closest to Mother Russia has failed to merge itself back into Russia. It has, however, formed a very close union with Russia.
By replacing the current Russian Constitution with one that restores the Romanov Dynasty as Emperors/Tsars Putin can in one action, both continue the restoration of traditional Russian culture and pride AND establish a transnational Empire to gather Russia's former nations together, limitedly at first but more intensively as time goes on. The Russia-Belarus Union could become the reborn Russian Empire with HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimorovna as the new Empress over both nations. Of course, she (as Empress and Head of State) would have limited power and that would be largely dictated by the Russian Head of Government. The Belarus political class would still have their independence ~ more or less, certainly less over time ~ and Russia would have a powerful tool to begin the reuniting of the Russian Empire/USSR, which was broken apart only a few years ago. The Ukraine will be an early target, as well several other former republics. At first the new Empress Maria will simply be a tool for a more in-depth union of Russia and Belarus but the strategy will be to expand the renewed Russian Empire and to expand Russian central governmental influence over the various national parts of the Empire including greater military "cooperation". Russia's new wealth, based on its oil and natural gas holdings, will be utilized to grease the way for putting back together most of the land mass that the Tsars and Soviets ruled.
Look for Vladimir Putin to fill the role of Head of Government in the Kemlin and the new Empress to reign in the old Imperial capitol of St. Petersburg bringing new life to Putin's favorite Russian city (his hometown) and the fantastic Russian showcase Winter Palace, as well as the palaces in Tsarskoe Selo. This will allow him to remain as leader of Russia, while allowing a new ceremonial Head of State in order to continue his strategy of both restoring historic Russia, and to ensuring its status as a leading great power in the Twenty-First Century.