THE BLOG
16/01/2012 17:10 GMT | Updated 16/03/2012 05:12 GMT

Putin's Persistent Presidency - Why Russia's dominant politician never really ceased to be its head of state.

So it appears that Russians haven't been too happy with Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency, which has potentially extended his tenure as the country's most senior politician until 2024 (at which point he would be age 83). Likewise, much of the Western media has condemned a growing 'soft authoritarianism' in the country. What nobody appears to have hit-upon, however, is the fact that during Putin's time as prime minister the real Russian president never changed.

I'm certainly not saying, as many already have, that Medvedev's presidency has been a mere act of puppetry by Putin, but rather that when one turns to consider who exactly the "Head of State" appeared to be in the Russian Federation over the past few years, the role always seemed to lie with its titular prime minister rather than its supposed president.

Most importantly, Putin's person and character have all but become synonymous with the Russian State. To cite but one example, Guardian journalist Luke Harding found that his perceived political enmity towards Putin had been viewed by Russian officials as tantamount to a fundamental opposition towards the Kremlin and even Russia itself. Indeed, during his time as the Guardian's political correspondent, Harding's phone was (allegedly) bugged, his flat broken into, personal life significantly disturbed and had implicit threats made against his family by State security agencies. When he enquired as to the reason behind this tortuous affair, he was given one explanation: he was against Putin and was therefore, in Harding's own words, an "enemy of the state". What greater qualification for the position of Head of State can there be than having come to constitute, in some sense, its entire body?

This phenomenon extends itself well beyond merely the Kremlin. Indeed, Putin's own political party explicitly treat him as a presidential figure (or, to use their own terminology, as the "national leader")

In fact, United Russia, the de-facto ruling party in the Russian Federation openly organises itself according to a primary policy of supporting Vladimir Putin, its Chairman, in his political endeavours. This is a concern seemingly shared by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has unswervingly supported Putin's political efforts over the past decade. Not only, then, is Putin's presidential nature recognised by the state itself, but also by the Russian political elite.

Finally, evaluating his time as prime minister, it becomes clear that Putin's has never ceased to occupy a presidential role. Be it representing his country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (meanwhile, Medvedev was free to take a short-lived holiday) or directly over-ruling international economic commitments made by Medvedev by instantiating his own policies, in the first year of his premiership alone Putin continually fulfilled presidential as well as prime ministerial functions while in office. By contrast, Medvedev appeared relegated to the role of a secretary of state come foreign secretary hybrid, with substantial power, but ultimately without true executive control.

With this in mind, it is worth asking why there was so much concern when Putin announced he was running for the Presidency, rather than simply serving another term as Prime Minister. Does anyone have any ideas?