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July 21, 2005
Putin Tries New Method To Retain Power -- Acquisition

Who says the new Russia doesn't believe in capitalism? Just when Vladimir Putin faces mandatory retirement due to term limits on the Russian presidency, he comes up with a plan right out of the corporate playbook to change the rules. He and Belarus President Lukashenko have devised a plan to reunify the Belarussians to the Russian Federation, and Putin will use that to subvert term limits:

PRESIDENT LUKASHENKO of Belarus arrived in Russia yesterday to promote a reunification plan for the two countries to offset growing Western influence in the former Soviet Union.

Some analysts say that the new union would allow Vladimir Putin to stay on as President after 2008, when, having served two terms, he is obliged to step down under the present Russian Constitution.

The two countries formed a loose union in 1996, but it has been hampered by economic disputes and personal animosity between Mr Lukashenko and Mr Putin.

Both leaders, however, appear to have put aside their differences after revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and now seem to be forging ahead with plans to form a new union.

Lukashenko may not like Vladimir Putin, but he wants some guarantees of power and control. Taking a look around his borders, he can easily see that the wave of democratization has crested at the edges of Belarus, with Ukraine to his south, the Baltic states to his north, and Poland on the west -- all democracies, and all an undue influence on the last former Soviet republic in the West to still suffer under strongman rule. Activists have already met with Condoleezza Rice in April, and Lukashenko can read the writing on the wall.

Putin now has a built-in excuse to stay on in the presidency, for two reasons. First, the re-integration of the Belarussians will not go pleasantly for either Lukashenko or the Belarussians, who probably prefer their independence. That will require the use of security forces, and possibly emergency powers, to counter. Second, the new entity could "require" a new constitution, which Putin could influence to remove the term limiting on the presidency. The Belarussians won't be the only group ending up less free under a reunification plan.

Without a doubt, Putin wants a buffer between Russia and the forces of democratization in order to hold onto power in the Kremlin. Using Belarus as a shield would serve his purposes and allow him to claim credit for reversing the decline of Russia since the collapse of the Confederation of Independent States in the early 1990s. Gobbling up and oppressing a few million Belarussians in doing so does not bother Putin in the least.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 21, 2005 6:57 AM

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