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Russia's Next Leader

Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page A26

In endorsing Anders Aslund's past and present analysis of political trends in Russia ["Ukraine's Lesson for Putin," op-ed, Jan. 27], Jim Hoagland overlooked a flaw in Mr. Aslund's present views.

In the late 1980s I agreed with Mr. Aslund that Mikhail Gorbachev would be unable to control the forces he'd unleashed, and I agree with him today that Vladimir Putin's power base is narrowing, so that it is quite likely that he won't remain in office until his term expires in 2008.

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But I disagree with Mr. Aslund in his high opinion of Russia's oligarchic class and its spokesman, Mikhail Kasyanov -- the only person he mentions as a possible Putin successor. Every reputable poll in Russia shows that this class is widely hated for its lawless rapaciousness in the 1990s. Thus no popular protest broke out when selected oligarchs were jailed or exiled or when Mr. Kasyanov -- long denounced as corrupt by media across the spectrum -- was fired as prime minister last March. On the contrary, these actions helped to sustain Mr. Putin's popularity and divert attention from the dead end to which his policies are leading the unfortunate Russian people.

Russia is not Ukraine, and while its political situation will hopefully improve in due course, its next leader is more likely to be a hard-line nationalist than either Mr. Kasyanov or a Russian version of Viktor Yushchenko.



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