In a week in which more than one political leader moved heaven and earth to stay in power, Russia's Prime Minister and ex-President Vladimir Putin is planning to make his getaway.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly hears from sources in Moscow that he is close to a decision to skip the 2012 presidential race and even considering giving up the premiership. He plans to leave Dmitry Medvedev in the presidential seat and insert a close associate as prime minister, although he has not yet picked a candidate.
It is not as though Putin needs the classical political ploy of pretending to put a foot out the door and waiting for "the people" to call him back; he enjoys an enviable popular rating of 80 percent. His near-decision is prompted by an inner conviction that the world will soon be run – not by official heads of state, such as presidents and prime ministers, but by top executives of energy and financial empires, who he considers the real powers behind governments in the rising generation of world leaders.
As heads of multinational corporations, they are not shackled by national bureaucracies, partisan affiliations or electoral considerations. This leaves them free not only lay down government policies in their own countries, but to hold supranational sway in foreign capitals and shape their policies in the informal guise of "consultants" or advisers.
Already, Putin has begun dodging official overseas trips as Russian prime minister. The only time he leaves Moscow is for dealing with issues of gas, oil and international pipelines. He is convinced that control of energy sources and its means of transportation to world markets is paramount for Russia's high international standing as a political and military power, and that no would-be superpower stands a chance without it.
Everything revolves around energy sources and pipelines
Putin came to this worldview, according to his associates, by observing three developments:
1. The United States: After studying American strategic decisions in the last decade, he concluded that two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have waged what he considered unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It cost the United States the lives of 4,300 servicemen and more than a trillion dollars in national treasure without bringing a single diplomatic, military or economic benefit – a poor cost-benefit ratio.
The Russian prime minister believes that had the US not become embroiled into two wars but concentrated on fighting Al Qaeda and terrorism – either by limited sorties by special forces or proxies – that trillion dollars would have served the US for assuming control of global energy markets. Instead of watching its weight as a superpower being ground down, Washington would have reserved the wherewithal for enhancing America's superpower status and quite possibly saving the country from sinking into its current economic crisis.
2. China: In Putin's view China has made the mistake of over-reliance on Iran as a primary fuel supplier and compounded it by over-investing to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, if not more, in a vast network of pipelines for conveying Iranian gas and oil to Afghanistan and thence to China and India. Beijing has no guarantee that this pipeline system will ever be completed, or that it will cover the gas and oil needs of Far Eastern nations.
Russian energy experts believe that Washington and Tehran will resolve their controversy in the not-too-distant future (See the item in this issue on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan's policy and the views of Turkish and European energy experts) and that relations will revert to the friendliness of half a century ago. At that point, the Chinese-Iranian working alliance will fall apart.
How about a Russian-led Bilderberg Group?
3. WikiLeaks: The circles close to Russian President Medvedev, which suggested when he was in Brussels last week, that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves the Nobel Prize for baring confidential US diplomatic cables, were not joking. They reflected Putin's satisfaction with the entire affair as showing up Western "openness" in its true light. Neither did he mind himself being referred to as one who "resents or resists the workload he carries" and rarely even bothers to show up at his office.
This portrayal of his workday is quite accurate, they say, with only one reservation: It omits to disclose that he spends most of his time and energy on his oil and gas projects which take precedence over his prime ministerial duties.
When he looks around, the Russian prime minister sees John Major, British premier from 1990-1997, Tony Blair, British premier from 19970 to 2008, Helmut Schmidt, West German Chancellor from 1974 to 1982 and his subsequent successor from 1999-2004, Gerhard Schroeder, all living it up as global consultants on diplomatic affairs, troubleshooters of international crises, brokers of oil and gas transactions and wielders of as much diplomatic and economic clout as any European prime minister.
Some of them are associated with Russia's oil and giant Gazprom which Putin controls.
He does not rule out the notion of gathering these movers and shakers under his leadership to form a kind of supranational body for taking transnational decisions, an open version of the West's secretive Bilderberg Group which holds discreet get-togethers and whose members are influential enough for their unpublished decisions to guide the steps of governments.