Courtesy Reuters

The Temporary Return of Putin Co.

Why Russia's Ruling Clan Won't Hold Power Forever

The ruling tandem of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev was a clever trick that allowed Putin to keep his hold on Russian political life without violating the Russian constitution, which forbids serving more than two consecutive presidential terms. At the same time, it made it possible for Medvedev to lure the West and Russian liberals with hopes for reform.

But the ruling security-services clan, which has usurped power in Russia over the last decade, no longer needs the tandem. Tough times are ahead. The global economic crisis has not spared Russia, public confidence in the authorities is declining, corruption is eating its way through the entire state machine, and social discontent is on the rise.

The ruling group -- which includes Putin's former KGB associates, colleagues from his days working for former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, friends from the dacha cooperative Ozero ("Lake" in Russian) near St. Petersburg, and partners in various business projects from the early 1990s -- need a forceful and experienced leader.

At the moment, Putin is the most effective leader in the group of security officers turned bureaucrats and personifies its power. But self-preservation could force the elite to choose a new figure for this role. If there is one thing that the current regime has learned, it is how to change masks and mutate when necessary.

Above all, Putin's return to the Kremlin demonstrates the undisguised desire of members of the ruling clique to run the country for life, gradually transferring control of assets and power to their children and relatives. (In just one example of how this process operates, Sergei Ivanov, Jr., the son of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, was appointed head of the board of one of the country's most powerful banks, Rosselchoz, which is chaired by Dmitry Patrushev, the son of Nikolai Patrushev, the chief of the Russian Security Council.) What is emerging in Russia today is a unique kind of neo-monarchy of Janissaries eager to find a way to

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